Monu Kumar ran away from his house in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district four years ago, after he flunked Class 10. He blames mathematics: “Bada hi mushkil vishay hai, bhaia (It’s too difficult a subject)!” Now, at 19 years of age, he sells helmets by the road in Sector 23, and is now preparing for Class 12 exams.
“I came to Chandigarh, Hallomajra to be precise; stayed with my mama (maternal uncle), who is a construction foreman, and worked with him as a manager of sorts for a while. Eventually I returned two years ago, after my father had cooled down, and passed my Class 10 after studying for three months,” he smiles, while also hackling with a customer. “I won’t give it for less than Rs 250,” he tells the scooterriding woman. “Fine, Rs 230 it is!” she says.
Matter settled, he returns to us. “You know, my father is a former sarpanch of Parsauni Raisi in Muzaffarpur. It covers nine villages!” he claims. The family owns five bigha land, but Monu wants to be in the paramilitary like his elder brother, who is appearing for a physical test on July 7. “That’s why I want to clear Class 12, and now there’s no math.”
For now, he is happy with an average margin of Rs 60 per helmet — he gets each for Rs 100 to 200 — selling 4-5 a day. This amounts to Rs 8,000-10,000 earning a month, plus around Rs 1,000 through small repairs and affixing visors on broken helmets.
Expenditure is around Rs 500 a month on challans or bribe. “The MC people charge Rs 100 per helmet on seized maal. I never bribe; rather pay the fine.” Mostly the sellers have 3-4 helmets on display that are seized, the rest hidden in bushes nearby.
Rohit Kumar, 22, who sells his wares under a tree in Sector 42, prefers the “monthly setting” of Rs 500-1,000. He is the son of a labourer and wanted to be his own boss, he says.
“There is also an organised business in roadside helmetselling. This man named Deepak alias Sonu employs about 100 boys at Rs 1,500 to 2,000 a month and sells helmets at Rs 180 each, with a margin of Rs 30, I think. He takes care of all the ‘setting’. This has happened over the past threefour years,” says Balraj Singh, 47, who does not want us to reveal his location. Deepak could not be traced despite three days of efforts, as no seller admits to being an employee.
The city has around 300 helmet sellers in all, selling each piece on an average for Rs 200, with a margin of Rs 60. With five helmets sold a day per seller, the business turnover for the city alone is around Rs 1 crore a month, with a profit margin of around Rs 30 lakh.
The suppliers are based in Hallomajra and Sector 21 among other places, bringing the madein-China marked helmets from Delhi. Most of these helmets carry the mandatory ISI mark, but it’s not sure if this is genuine. “These helmets are rather flimsy. But we have a liberal view unless it’s really bad,” says a traffic cop deployed in Sector 36.
But to make the business seem fancy, most sellers keep boxes of expensive brands stacked at their counters. “I sometimes sell branded stuff, sometimes on exchange offer, but the margin is hardly Rs 50. We get these boxes at Rs 3-5 each from the fancy shops,” says Monu.
The sellers are happy that the police are strict in Chandigarh, making the business boom. “These helmets are good enough to survive a normal accident or at least give you the perception of safety,” says Rohit. “The rest depends on destiny, anyway.”