A small crowd of people, deprived of their regular breakfast, gather around M. Raghavan and his motorcycle. The motorcycle has a specially designed carrier, large enough to accommodate separate containers for tea, snacks, and a hand-wash device. The only visible activity on Wednesday, hartal day, on deserted Mavoor Road, was at Raghavan’s mobile tea shop.

He is one of those who could not open their shops on hartal day but decided instead to turn the day to their advantage. For hundreds of migrant workers and others who are dependent on restaurants, such mobile shops came as a blessing.

“I run a small tea shop in the city where I do decent business each day. The revenue lost from not opening the shop for an entire day is considerable. Earlier, I used to stay at home on hartal days. But three years ago, I decided to put my motorcycle to use on such days. Many were already doing it, much before I started. I got the carrier custom-made to suit my needs,” says Raghavan.

Even hartal supporters do not have any problems with this arrangement and have never tried to stop his business, he says.

“They are actually happy about it. Even they need some refreshment after the intense sloganeering and marching,” he says.

For Abdu Rahman, his cycle is the mode of business. He, unlike Raghavan, does his regular business on wheels. Besides the carrier, he also makes use of both sides of the handle to carry two bags of snacks.

“I have to stock up to last till evening. The pace of business is faster compared to a normal day,” says Rahman.

They usually shift from one junction to another every hour. But they sometimes end up staying at the same place due to the non-stop arrival of customers.

People such as S. Sudevan, who works as a guard at an ATM, are thankful to the mobile tea men. “I agree that many of the hartals are for reasonable demands. But they should consider giving an exemption to restaurants as a number of people, especially those working away from their native places, depend on them. If not for these men on bikes, we would find it hard to get some food,” says Sudevan.

A section of migrant workers are also dependent on them. “Most of the workers have facilities to prepare food at the places where they stay. But those like me who arrived recently go to wayside eateries. This is the first shutdown after I came to Kerala. We should be making arrangements for cooking as soon as possible,” says Amar Sarkar from West Bengal.

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