Mumbai News

CST’s 26/11 hero ready to quit Mumbai – Mumbai Mirror

Tea for tired

Driven to frustration by lack of business and mounting debt, a 26/11 hero CST tea seller is all set to wind up his life in Mumbai and return to Bihar. Chhotu Chaiwala, who took the injured from CSMT’s long-distance section on a hand-cart to St George’s Hospital while Ajmal Kasab and Ismail Khan were still targeting people in the suburban section of the station, has not only seen his life’s savings disappear during the lockdown, but also a debt of over Rs 3 lakh accumulate.

With his two tea stalls outside CSMT’s south exit now shut for over five months, Chhotu has been trying to make some money selling tea out of a flask. But what he earns is nowhere near enough to support his family and three boys he employs at his stalls.

(Above) File picture of Chhotu Chaiwala (black shirt) using a handcart to rush 26/11 victims to hospital; with his two tea stalls shut, Chhotu now sells tea out of a flask

Chhotu – the name stuck after he arrived in Mumbai as a 12-year-old in 1995 and joined a food stall as a helper – was forced to borrow money as he continued to pay salaries to his employees during the lockdown. Married twice, he has five daughters – two with the first wife he divorced and three with the second. “My wife is currently staying at her father’s place in Borivali and has taken up work as a domestic help. My daughters are at a hostel in Byculla, but I am finding it increasingly difficult to pay the monthly fee,” he said.

The lockdown could not have come at a more inopportune time for Chottu. In February this year, he rented a licenced stall near his first one. “I spent Rs 1 lakh stocking up this stall. And exactly a month later, the lockdown was imposed,” he said.

Life, in fact was looking up for Chhotu before the lockdown. His 26/11 heroics earned him 27 awards and nearly Rs 70,000 in cash. He used the cash to soup up his first stall which is unlicenced. By February this year, he had enough cash reserves to step up his business. “The stall I rented carried a BMC licence. I wanted to be free of the daily threat of facing BMC’s raiding parties. But then, who had seen this virus coming?” he said.

Chhotu had a narrow escape in the 26/11 attack. He was standing outside the station master’s cabin when Kasab and Khan began firing. Chhotu hid in the cabin and played dead when Kasab came in spraying bullets. “The station master was injured. I saw him bleeding from his chest, pressing the wound with a kerchief to stem the flow of blood,” Chhotu recalled.

When he gathered his wits around him, Chhotu went out, picked up a hand cart and began taking the injured to St George’s hospital which is next-door. He later took the station master to the hospital too.

A large chunk of Chhotu’s debt is money in small amounts borrowed from railway officials at CSMT, who remember his 26/11 heroics as well as his piping hot tea. “They all know me. I have been serving them tea since 1995. But now I have borrowed from everyone I could. The only option I have now is to return to Dumri, my village in Muzaffarpur district in Bihar, and start life anew,” he said.