Hafta is a Hindi term that literally means “a week”. In Hindi slang, hafta also denotes “protection money”, money that is collected by the mafia or corrupt police on a “weekly basis”. Hafta is commonly practiced in India, and Mumbai is no stranger to this malevolent tradition where cops blatantly demand a weekly ransom for illegal stalls to operate on the
bustling and commercial streets of Mumbai.
If you did not know already, the streets of Mumbai are
homes and businesses to many legal and illegal vendors such as the man who sells fresh coconut water, the barber who will give you a clean shaven face for Rs. 25 ($0.50), the person who sells rubber slippers, the book seller, the fast food stalls, the man who will clean the wax out of your ears, the cobbler….you name it! There is always someone setting shop on the busy streets of Mumbai, streets that are frequented by thousands of people a day. I was witness to a case of hafta last week, when I was indulging in my favorite sin, eating road side food. Against all good advice, right from my husband to my grandmother, I indulge in chaat,the Indian version of fast food, from time to time. Give me my favorite chaat dish and you have made my day!
A few weeks ago, I stopped on the corner side of my building and was waiting for my food. I saw this police officer approach the stall that was next to the chaat wala (person who sells chaat) and demand that he cough up Rs. 50 (about $1). I thought it odd that the officer donned dark shades when the sun was sinking and there was barely any sunlight left. I did not think much of it because, this is Mumbai, a city where anything goes. I had no idea what was going on and just watched the show. It finally dawned on me, when the cop approached the stall that I was at, what he was doing. I froze, not knowing how to react. But it appeared that it did not matter to the cop who was around or who was watching him. He was just doing what’s been done for hundreds of years: prey on the week to get bigger and stronger. Initially, I did not think much of the fact that he was asking the chaat wala to give him some money. The vendor refused and said he had only just started his “dchandar” (business ) and requested that the cop return later in the evening . I am sure the cop realized this was the oldest trick in the book and was hell bent on getting his money. I thought to myself, ‘What is this fool hankering for a measly Rs. 50? Does he not have anything better to do?’ Then it occurred to me that if the corrupt copped collected Rs. 50 from every bloody vendor on just that street, he would probably be a very happy man by the end of his rounds.
The cop refused to leave the stall until the vendor gave into his demands, even it it meant borrowing money from the other stall and paying the cop. I was even more surprised when the vendor whipped out a little notebook and made a note of the date and amount, and the cop was checking the book to ensure that all facts and figures were in order. Clearly, this practice was the norm.
There is a clear “circle of life” in Mumbai, where the strong dominate the week, ensuring the strong remain stronger, and the weak, weaker. Modern day evidence of this trend can be seen by the hundreds of grossly expensive residential towers that stand tall every year and line the very streets that house the hundreds of hutments that are stacked side by side, overflowing with rickety looking people and malnourished children. This idea of mumbai’s circle of life was driven home to me when i was walking to a cafe last Sunday and chanced upon this magnificent sight:
A crow claiming it’s find, a brutal symbol of the circle of life…. life is an illusion and we are all prey to the ones who are stronger and bigger than us, in one form or the other.19.017615 72.856164