Come rains and Shimla becomes the destination for migrant workers who sell and repair umbrellas to earn some extra bucks

Rainy season for some means romance and poetry, some curse it for traffic jams and leaking roofs. But for those who repair and sell umbrellas, it is the time to earn a bit of money.

For most part of the year, Mohammed pedals his way on a cycle going from village to village selling paan in Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh. Come rains, he heads for Shimla where he is much in demand. “I come to Shimla in June and July every year. Here I am able to earn Rs. 200-300 daily as one gets a lot of customers who want their umbrellas to be repaired.”

Hashim works as a daily wage labourer in Saharanpur. He, too, learnt repairing umbrellas and is now able to earn some extra bucks during the monsoons in Shimla. “There is hardly any construction activity during this season in Saharanpur but I have to have some income to make both ends meet,” says Hashim who has been coming here for a decade now.

He adds: “Handles and rods are the only things one need to buy, the rest we are able to get from old umbrellas.”

Mohammed and Hashim are among the nearly 25 people from Saharanpur who migrate to Shimla during the monsoons. One of them, Mohammed Shamshir, who came here a few years back, has settled down in Shimla. “It rains on and off in Shimla and people need to repair umbrellas almost throughout the year, so I decided to stay back,” Shamshir says. He has admitted his children in local schools.

On the other hand, monsoons are the time for pramwalas like Attar Thakur to go back to their village in Sirmour district, not very far from Shimla. Attar and many other young unemployed youth come to the tourist town during the summers.

“It is difficult for the tourists from plains to stroll down the Mall carrying children. So we take their children up and down the Mall or the Ridge in prams. Parents sometimes also take prams on hire. We charge Rs. 50 per hour; we earn anything between Rs. 300-500 on an average daily,” says Attar.

Sometime back, a few of them had fixed keyboards and other games to the prams to keep the children occupied. They, however, did away with the features due to extra expense on batteries and also objection to the noise created by the toys’ sound. 

The pramwalas in Shimla cannot operate without license due to security reasons though some do violate the rule. There are 61 licensed pramwalas here; all of them are from Sirmour where most of them have small holdings of cultivable land, some of them work as farm labourers. They also have a union to take care of their interests. 

The pramwalas return to Shimla following the monsoons as the tourist season begins. The population of Shimla swells by three to four lakh during this season and offers income opportunities to many sections. Not just the pramwalas, young men from neighbouring States, too, throng the hill town for some extra income.

One of them, Gurmail Singh from Patiala sells battery-operated emergency lights, torches, and other daily-use goods. “I come here for a week, sell my stuff, go back and return again. I am able to earn more in Shimla which has a lot of tourists during summers. In Patiala, I cannot earn even half the money by ferrying the goods on a cycle,” Gurmail says.

Apart from the above-mentioned migrant workers, there are also the Khans from Kashmir, the Bahadurs from Nepal and porters from interior parts of Himachal who make Shimla their temporary home during the tourist seasons.

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