At the age of 15, after he failed his 10th standard, Mahesh came to Bengaluru from Chinnasalem Taluk, Tamil Nadu in 1988 to find a job. He heard from his older sister, who was married and settled in Bengaluru, that there might be a job for him in the fish business. Mahesh says,
‘Because of my sister and brother-in-law, I came to know about this fish business.’
Family and related social networks are a crucial source of news to hear about employment opportunities for those who work in the informal economy. Like Mahesh, 16% of the respondents in our study said that they were able to start their businesses because they had relatives or acquaintances who helped them.
Mahesh is one of hundreds of fish vendors, who buy fish from Russell Market, travel around Bengaluru and sell fish to customers. On a TVS Excel motor bike, he travels almost 30 kms per day and sells fish in Shivajinagar, Infantry Road, Frazer Town and Vasanth Nagar. Like Mahesh, 27% of the vendors in our sample move their food cart or vehicle on a daily basis.
‘Before, when there were no cell phones, I had to walk on the streets and call “meen meen meen”.’
Of these mobile vendors, 38% said that they spend six to ten hours travelling through different neighbourhoods, selling their food items to a varied set of customers.
The one thing that is most crucial to setting up his customer network in the city is mobile phones. Mobile phones have changed the way he conducts his business and how he gains customers.
‘After cell phones came, business is good, and it is easy—if customer calls, I will go give them fish. They will tell their friends about me—it is good fish, good price, neat cleaning. One to another, they tell; it is like a chain link.’