CHENNAI: A hunt for his missing mother brought Mohammad Shahdab from Kolkata to Chennai a year ago but now cotton candy is the only thing that keeps him here.
His mother left home eight years ago to visit her relative in Uttar Pradesh. Days became months and then years, but she never returned and the family was unable to trace her. “We tried all means but nothing worked. Someone said they spotted a woman who looked like her in Chennai Central. As it was also time for me to start earning, I chose this city and came here. I keep looking, hoping to find her some day,” says an emotional Shahdab, who sells cotton candy at the Marina Beach.
When he landed here, like several migrant labourers, money was hard to come by and he did not know anyone. The little money he had brought with him was about to run out. One day, while walking down the streets of Pallavaram, Shahdab saw a vendor selling cotton candy – his favourite – to school children.
“I spent my last Rs 5 on it. Somehow the vendor realised that I was broke and was looking for a job, so he offered me a job selling cotton candy and a place to stay,” he recalls. However, when he told the vendor that his main purpose was to find his mother, he said that since Shahdab’s work would involve going around selling candies, he might get lucky some day. “I knew I had to work hard and find ammi,” he said.
Shahdab wakes up at 6am every day, makes cotton candy with his owner and gets to work by 8am. “I go to Mount Road, Pallavaram, Guindy and other places that have many schools. Since I travel mostly on foot, I save up a lot,” he says, and adds that he visits Marina Beach every single day.
“These days few children buy cotton candies. They prefer chocolates and ice creams and many men, especially drunkards, snatch the candy. They refuse to pay and start abusing when I ask. Still, I adore this place, it is very calm,” observes Shahdab, looking at the horizon.
He earns around Rs 6,000 per month, most of which he sends back home to his father and sister, who is in Class 9. “I don’t want her to be uneducated or end up on the streets like me,” he said. Still very positive of finding his mother some day, somewhere, Shahdab says that he has saved some money so that she too can lead a comfortable life. “I’ll see for the next few months, if I don’t find her I will go someplace else and start over again. It’s not that difficult,” he says, exuding hope with a smile and getting back to work.