Standing in the shade of her red sun umbrella, Vaishali Thakur squeezes half a lemon into a glass, adds a dash of salt and black pepper masala, pours in some ice-cold water and mixes vigorously.
Standing next to her, waiting, is yet another thirsty customer, one of about 100 people she serves every day.
“This is peak season for me,” says the 32-year-old mother of four, her hands working busily. “I never take a day off in summer.”
Thakur has been serving up refreshing lime juice, or nimbu pani, at her stall in Mahim (West) for 14 years, using water from a public tap near her one-room chawl home nearby and limes bought at Dadar market every two or three days.
“I set up my cart when I was 18 and pregnant with my second child,” she says. “Before that, I worked as a maid, but that didn’t pay much.”
With a growing family and a husband unable to support them on the earnings from his odd jobs, Thakur decided to set up her own street cart.
Lime juice seemed the best option — it required little raw material and promised a steady income, being the drink of choice for thousands of Mumbaiites across the city every day.
“I drink two glasses a day myself,” says Thakur, smiling.
Thakur starts her day at the public tap near her home at 6 am, collecting water for the family. She then washes the clothes, sweeps the house and has a bath before sitting down to a breakfast of milk and bun-maska with her family.
At 9 am, she picks up her umbrella and water tank containing lemons, ice, five glasses and masala tin and heads to her spot on the pavement just outside the railway station. By 10 am, her 18-year-old son, her eldest, has brought 20 litres of water from the public tap to the folding table that is her stall.
There, as the sun shines brightly overhead, she mixes and serves her lime juice in an endless cycle of slicing, pouring, serving and rinsing.
Selling each glass of lime juice for Rs. 5, Thakur earns about Rs. 2,500 in profits each week.
“The best thing about my work is that I don’t depend on anyone and don’t report to anyone,” she says. “I feel proud when I think about how I have supported my family for so long.”
At 1 pm, Thakur packs up her tank, folds up her umbrella and heads home to cook a lunch of dal and rice or khichdi for herself and her husband. Then it’s back to reassembling the stall and selling the iced lime juice.
At 7 pm, she heads home to make dinner and her eldest, a Class 9 dropout, takes over; he will eventually shut shop at 10 pm. As soon as he returns home, the family sits down to a dinner of dal, rice, roti and sabzi.
Then it’s family time, as Thakur catches up with her school-going children, aged 16, 14 and 11.
“My eldest son did not study much, but my second child, my daughter, is studying well and has learned how to use a computer,” she says, smiling. “I hope the rest of them will also do well and study hard.”
At midnight, the family turns in.
Thakur’s only time off is a 10-day annual vacation to her husband’s village in Ratlam district, Madhya Pradesh.
“I don’t take any weekly holidays,” she says. “I would feel too guilty. Even at night, I keep waiting for day to come so I can sell nimbu-pani again and put more money in my cash box.”
(This weekly feature explores the lives of those unseen Mumbaiites essential to your day)