MINA IS STANDING barefoot in a faded nightie at the counter of her little shop, selling small packets of homemade gur sweets, sachets of shampoo and washing powder, and bottles of soft drinks to the children who come up to the shop with coins clutched in their sweaty fists. She’s also selling hot samosas at `4 a piece, wrapped in squares of old newspaper. Her husband, Mahendar, is frying the samosas on a kerosene stove in an adjoining room.
“They’re not perfect today,” he says. “The crust should be a little softer, more chewy.”
Sitting on the floor of the shop in a T-shirt and jeans, the couple’s 11-year-old daughter, Abhilasha, is cutting the dough left over from the samosas into fat strips, which Mahendar will later fry into namkeen. Every time she notices me looking at her, she flicks back her long, shiny hair, smiles to herself and continues her namkeen-cutting with renewed seriousness. No one bothers to swat away the flies that work diligently on every surface in still, black droves. Mahendar has one ear on the TV playing in the inner room. A crucial India-Australia cricket match is on. As soon as there’s a power cut, which is about every 15 minutes, he switches on the battery-operated transistor standing near the stove. On his forearm, a tattooed word has been inked over, and the word ‘Mina’ is tattooed next to it.