There are several aspects of culture and society that are unique to India. Similarly, when one looks at the professional space, there are also many vocations or work opportunities that are very distinct to the country. On a lighter note, these professions are not necessarily the best career options, as they include a few that are truly bizarre. However, they continue to strive in big and small cities. And are means of livelihood for a large number of people.
Most of these professions or vocations do not fit the bill when it comes to career aspirations. In fact, the next generation would turn away from these, and rightfully so. With education and opportunity, the future must find roles, businesses, and jobs that are meaningful, inclusive, and can truly bring about economic and social change.
The Good, Bad and Ugly
Yet, the presence of some of these most unique professions on our streets and in our markets is a reflection of our society and culture. To the world outside, some of them might seem weird, some hilarious, and others probably inhumane. But for the people of this country, these vocations are a part and parcel of our everyday existence.
Here is taking a look at some of the most uniquely unabashed professions and vocations of India that might be quirky or eccentric, but are meshed well with the economic, social and cultural aspects of the nation.
Human Rickshaw Pullers
For someone who has grown up in Kolkata, the sight of a human rickshaw puller is not uncommon. They pull the rickshaw along with passengers, tingling their bells in traffic. In the sun and rain, they do not stop. Though there have been several debates and discussions on taking them off completely, the fact that these rickshaw pullers themselves have no other means of livelihood keep them going. Similarly, in several places across the country, one will see men pulling or cycling carts with goods or supplies.
Another profession that continues to find a place in India is that of a coolie. Where in most other railway platforms passengers are expected to carry their own luggage or have trolleys or carts, in many stations across India coolies continue to work. Seen distinctly in their red attires, the coolies load luggage on their hands and dangle heavy bags in their arms. They climb up and down a flight of stairs and adjust the load under the train seats. Again a debatable profession, much like the human rickshaw pullers and load carriers, the coolies are an example of the country’s economic state of affairs. Only when there are enough measures of poverty alleviation and enough job opportunities, can people move away from professions that might help them make money, but are not the shining examples of humanity or empathy in a world that sometimes claims to have progressed manifold.
Today the world, including India is much more open to the transgender community. Spokespersons from within and outside the community have hugely helped in changing the perspective and bringing respect. Yet, in pockets of the country, transgender entertainers are associated with marriages, childbirth, and many other social functions. They are either called or come on their own accord to entertain guests. It is also considered a bad omen to turn them away.
Photography is a great and upcoming profession. But though there are different types of photographers that are experts in clicking particular emotions, occasions, or objects, in India, there are corpse photographers. There are photography studios in Varanasi that specialize in photographing the dead. It is a part of the final rituals and is a way for the family to remember their loved ones who have passed away.
These are not hard to find. You will often spot them on the roadside or in public places, such as parks and beaches. With their cards, documents, and a faithful parrot let out of the cage, these astrologers are tarot card readers. They read the future and one’s fortune. A profession that is closely embedded in the Indian psyche, astrology has always been among the country’s favorite subjects.
Closely related to the astrologer clan, are genealogists. Another profession that thrives in Varanasi, the genealogists, also known as Pandas can dig out any old records of ancestors that date back generations. They have data of many Hindu families, including their family trees, births, marriages, deaths, etc.
Also, called mochis, roadside cobblers are a common sight on Indian roads. Tucked under an umbrella or perched in a comfortable corner, the cobbler is equipped with all his tools, ready to assist a hapless customer who might be limping toward him. With an array of different slippers and shoes, he skillfully sews a torn shoe or attaches the detached strap of a sandal.
Similarly, tailors with their sewing machines are also often found on the streets. Unlike tailoring shops, they sit around in the open air making small mends and stitches. Sometimes, they also push their sewing machines and travel from area to area to make amends.
Hawkers and Kirana Shop Owners
There are entire markets dedicated to roadside hawkers across the country. Salesmen and women set up shop by laying their goods, which include fruits, vegetables, bags, shoes, clothes, and accessories on footpaths and walkways. Their products are cheaper and open to bargain. Forget the high-end shops and markets, but hawkers very often provide amazing deals at a reasonable price.
And then we have a kirana shop at every second corner. Shops that like the magic Santa bag sell absolutely everything and anything. From cosmetics to edibles, to daily provisions, to stationery. Everything is under a single roof.
The tiffin carriers of Mumbai are world-famous. Known for the detailed execution and perfect timing, the dabbawalas carry lunch or tiffin to thousands of working people, ensuring they get hot meals delivered to them. With unique management skills and a system that works to the tee, the dabbawalas are a vocation that is singularly special to Mumbai.
Chai or Tea Shacks
Indians cannot do without their chai. In many parts, such as southern India, coffee may be the more prevalent beverage, yet tea tends to hold its own. The chaiwala bhaiyya is often a young boy who keeps shunting from one office or shop to another with a kettle of hot tea. He generously pours the tiny glass cups with the refreshing tea that is devoured on an hourly basis. Besides, there are several tea shacks and stalls that are found on corners and streets catering to the hunger pangs of a large population. Tea is constantly always on the boil, served with biscuits that are kept in glass jars on the counter.
Roadside Ear Cleaners/Dentist
The road and streets of the country are financial hubs for sure. For one can find professional ear cleaners and dentists on them too. Dentists otherwise are expensive, but many roadside dentists can do the job. Of course, doctors and experts do not recommend getting dental or ear treatment on the road, but there are many professionals who have been around for generations and claim to be knowing what they are doing.
Bollywood or the Indian film industry makes umpteen movies year after year. However, behind the scenes, there are often a number of spot boys who run the small errands on set. It could be holding a screen, fanning something, bringing in juice, and so on. Some of them move on to become skilled in certain aspects of the industry, however, others remain spot boys.
Our kaamwali bai is an integral part of the family. Imagine how the lockdown went without any domestic help. The memories still send shivers down the spine for many. But domestic help in India is a common economic bracket of people who work in the homes or offices of other people. They do the basic household chores of dusting, washing, cleaning, cooking, etc. Unlike many places in the world where people do their own chores, Indians heavily depend on domestic helpers.
Finally, the above professions, though unique to India, do not necessarily warrant their lifelong existence. Each of these professions exists because they work! They provide livelihood for those practicing them and also work in favor for those who seek them out.