Belly of Bertram Street

Hawkers of Kolkata, Bertram Street
Mohammed Tasim, Bertram Street

Mohammed has a glint in his eyes which betrays a faint hope when he scans his prospective customers. If you look closely, the colours of the scarves reflect in his countenance. In essence, his heart and soul is his small 4×4 tenement at Bertram Street, a stone’s throw away from New Market.

As I caressed the smoothย scarves lying around in neat rows, I wanted to go behind the scenes and prod him on his aspirations and inspirations.
Sharing a room with 12 other hawkers, he has designed for himself a life of routine tasks and occasional merrymaking. Their genesis lies in the belly of New Market, their home for the greater part of the day.

Standing tall and proud, years of experience had turned him into an astute businessman with skills that could take the budding B-school interns by surprise. 30+ years of experience seemed to have taught him the skills of the trade quite well.

As I turned towards my Mom to share a word, he asked – ‘Kya thi aaiva cho tame?’ย (Where have you come from?) taken by surprise I asked, where did he learn to speak such good Gujarati from? “I was a trader in Gujarat for 15 yrs. before I settled in Kolkata,” he said. Learning about his proficiency in Gujarati made me a tad bit more comfortable to further converse with him.

While festive days left him with no time to even have his lunch it was on the not so happening days that he took breaks to listen to music or join his pals for some light-hearted chat.

Mohammed seemed to draw inspiration from his scarves. Soaking in everyday a colour at a time, akin to his scarves. Some days were blue and lazy, others were fiery red, even a mundane green for vibrancy.

As the twilight faded in the horizon dimming the glow of the tenement, a different kind of sparkle shown on his face. He told me to wrap up my notes for he wanted to head home to welcome his wife and kids who were visiting him that evening!

Kolkata Hawker Stories Bertram Street
Mohammed Tasim, Bertram Street

Got a memory with a hawker to share? I’d love to hear! ๐Ÿ™‚ย 

26 thoughts on “Belly of Bertram Street

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    1. Thank you Akanksha! ๐Ÿ˜Š I read your blog yesterday about how the promissory notes came about! Interesting facts and the storytelling approach made it an interesting read! ๐Ÿ˜Š

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I liked the title of your B-post, and what an apt one to describe the congested and bustling narrow streets lined with crowded stalls that Bertram Street is. Your post had a fragrance of poetry and emotion that seemed to be reflecting off from the protagonist Tasim and his daily life’s story.
    Identifying and speaking in the customers’ native language is an art you will find in such hawkers and small shopkeepers, which is often missing in the larger showrooms! These folks know how to bond with their customers and thus hardly need to push-sell.
    The photos which you have taken and posted along with your story, gave me a feel that I was right there in front of Tasim’s shop. Wonderful blend of words and images!
    I am really enjoying reading about the lesser-known Kolkata and the world of its hawkers from your stories. Thank you for bringing these lively stories to us ๐Ÿ™‚
    May be you have a plan already, but I hope you will include some food vendors too! Like the countless ‘phutchka-walas’ who dot the streets of Kolkata, or the ‘mishti-seller from Sreerampore’ who comes everyday to sell sweets at Dalhousie square!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I completely agree with you on how the hawkers make an effort to converse in the shoppers native language in order to make a person connect. The experience of shopping at a mall and on the streets have such a vast difference. I’m glad you’re enjoying the photographs…it’s my maiden approach at practising photography extensively across Kolkata. I hear you when you mention phutchka walas! I’m sure that is something many would like to know about. The food blogs are coming up soon! ๐Ÿ˜Š

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Another beautiful post describing in some detail life of a small business man. Yes they are savvy in the art of dealing and deal making. A B school graduate may learn a lot from these businessmen who operate on a shoestring budget and work for a small profit.


    1. Thank you Priyanka! ๐Ÿ˜Š They indeed have so much to teach. I’m enjoying the conversations as I go about meeting more hawkers.


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