The moment you step inside Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), an overwhelming noise engulfs every part of your body. Announcements of train schedules, commuters hustling from one platform to the other and the sound of trains arriving and leaving the station make the noise a hard miss. A lingering, non-comprehensible chatter floats the air, while hawkers go from person to person trying to sell their goods. In the middle of this chaos, have you ever stopped to ask what the story of the old woman selling pens and tissue papers on CST is? Why does she sell colourful-looking pens at bargain-basement prices to commuters who hardly acknowledge her presence?

Her face lit up as she recalled her life in the village with family and her most prized possessions- her cattle and fields, both of which she spoke of proudly.

Sitting on the floor of platform number one, in front of a chai-samosa shop, Mangya Devi, 54, belongs to a small village near Kota in Rajasthan. When asked why she sold tidbits at CST, her face dropped as she explained that she came to ‘Bumbai’ (Mumbai) two years ago looking for a job that could feed her five sons and one daughter, after her village was hit with an acute water crisis. Talking fondly of her life back home, Mangya said she spent most of her time on the fields, where she grew Makki (Corn) and Urad Dal. Her face lit up as she recalled her life in the village with family and her most prized possessions- her cattle and fields, both of which she spoke of proudly. A minute later, the loud horn of a train entering the station interrupted her thoughts, and she was faced with her bitter reality once again.

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The last few years had been an uphill battle for Mangya. The meager sum of Rs.3000 that she earned by selling one quintal of corn in her village mandi (market) was far from fair for the amount of work that she put in. If she wanted to sell her produce at a higher price, she’d have to travel eight hours to get to Kota-the nearest city. Lack of a befitting sum for her corn and urad dal, coupled with a water crisis in the village, left her pockets empty and land barren. All her savings were spent trying to cultivate her fields and feed the cattle, but with no luck. Soon, she was left with no other recourse but to quit farming and look for a means of survival elsewhere.

The farmer, who spent her entire life growing crops to feed people like you and me, is afraid of starvation. The hands that have fed us, are finding it hard to get a decent square meal a day for themselves

At this point in her life, she first went to Delhi in search of a new livelihood, from where she was asked to go to Mumbai. ‘I arrived at this very station (CST), and it’s where you’ll find me all day and all night.’ She spends long days and lonely nights accompanied by her only daughter at CST, selling pens, tissue papers and ear-buds which she buys for Rs.1000 and sells at Rs.2000. When asked if it was what she had expected to earn, Mangya shrugged and said ‘earning something, even if it is a little, is better than starving.’ Ironical, isn’t it? The farmer, who spent her entire life growing crops to feed people like you and me, is afraid of starvation. The hands that have fed us, are finding it hard to get a decent square meal a day for themselves. Mangya survives on a samosa and garam chai, which is the only thing she can afford to have once a day, and hopes that a passer-by would be kind enough to buy a pen or two.

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If you ever see Mangya and her daughter on platform number one of CST, remember to pass along a smile. After all, it’s the least we can do for the hands that feed us.

The views expressed are the author’s own.

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