Vanishing tribe: Peanut cone vendors of Shimla

peanut cone vend

Once a lucrative business venture, the peanut cone vendors in Shimla are hard to find these days.  Distinguishable by their green coloured tin boxes with paper cones protruding from the bins, they could be spotted anywhere on the Mall and on the Ridge till a few years ago.

The bins contained various mixtures like wafers, peanuts, chana, chana press etc.  I faintly recollect that the cones used to cost just 10 paisa, which was affordable and also cherished by the children and elders alike. Now with the change of tastes, children are hardly attracted towards such items. And these vendors have also ventured into other professions.

Ranjit Singh - Photo by Vijay K Verma
Ranjit Singh – Photo by Vijay K Verma

There are only three or four of us now, a middle aged vendor Ranjit Singh said when I spotted him near the Christ Church on the Ridge. But you people have raised the price of a cone to Rs.20 now which appears costly even to the children, I attempted to argue.

Sir, but see how the cost of food items have gone up. Now we get a meal at no less than Rs. 100 which used to be available for just two rupees twenty years ago, he reasoned.

And your buyers too must have reduced, I asked.

True sir, it is dying profession these days. Once one of the prides of Shimla, the peanut vendors have gradually vanished.

Do you have a fixed spot for selling your wares, I inquired.

No sir, we have to remain on the move, otherwise we are challaned by the Municipal Corporation and police alike. At times our boxes are also snatched, he told. Then how do you manage, I asked. At times it is with a few cones to the staff and sometimes through financial gratification, he told.

I recollected a movie “3 Idiots” in which such a peanut cone vendor on the Mall guides the film’s two of the idiots, towards the home of Mr. Chhanjed, the hero of the film.  The character of the peanut seller was played by one Mr. Sanjay Sood, from the Department of Information & Public Relations.

Ranjit Singh, the vendor suddenly became enthusiastic to narrate his story about his part taking in a film recently. He related how he had been called by the film unit of “Tamasha” which was being shot in Shimla with main character played by Ranbir Kapur.

Then what was your role in the film I enquired.

Nothing sir, I was just made to sit packing the cones on road side when some film characters passed by. It was a two day schedule, he told, for which he had been paid Rs, 2000.

And were you required to share your eatables with the unit people, I enquired. No sir, but for the representative who had called me to the shooting spot, no one bothered me.peanut

True, I pondered, how many of such small professions are dying a slow death. Nostalgically I remember how once upon a time man pulled rickshaws used to ply on the Mall. A lot many people had been fruitfully employed by the profession. And to assist these rickshaw pullers, the government had also provided sheds on the Mall. The open place opposite Khadi Ashram on the Mall, and another spot near Hotel Marina, were then sheds and resting places for rickshaw pullers. It used to be a matter of pride for many people to ride such rickshaws on now the sealed and No vehicle zone.

Ranjit Singh got busy talking to a Khan  as the labourers from Kashmir are referred to. They also used to be called ‘Hato” in olden times. Yes sir, Khan also joined the conversation and related that their profession too has reduced many times these days. Many of us have migrated back to Kashmir, he told.

As I looked around, I spotted some new ventures replacing the old ones. A lot many people have got employed in the business of renting their Prams to visitors and tourists. They charge around Rs. 100 per hour. They are found queuing up near the lift. Another medium of comfort to the people, I wondered how one has to move with the changing times.

Having moved on after spearheading corporate communications of a large public sector undertaking, its time to give vent to the creative urges that lay suppressed for long

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