Nagpur: Swapnil Pandhare was 12 when he started working. He would sell tiny flags made of paper at Nagpur’s traffic signals and busy locations to pay for his education and contribute to the family’s meagre resources. At 28, Swapnil has a decent and stable income of an Uber driver in one of India’s rising tier-II cities. “This job is stable and I earn enough to provide for my family," says Swapnil as he negotiates traffic in Nagpur made chaotic by metro work.
In Nagpur’s Bidipeth area, Swapnil lives with his wife, parents, and a younger brother who drives an auto-rickshaw. “I earn the most in my family but it has taken a lot of hard work to reach here," says Swapnil.
He is one of millions who are part of an informal workforce that has emerged in the last few years and whose circumstances did not leave them with much choice. Yet, he has tried to defy his circumstances and pick up skills that have kept him going despite the lack of a good formal education.
“I could study only till Class 12. It was not within the means of my family to afford further education. After Class 12, I thought of migrating from Nagpur for a job in a bigger city to earn more and also join a college. But this would not have worked out logistically. So I stayed in Nagpur and did odd jobs," he says.
There is not an odd job that Swapnil has not done. “I started off selling flags on 15 August and 26 January. I have been a newspaper hawker, delivered milk and newspapers at doorsteps, worked in a private taxi service company, even sold tickets at a municipal garden in Nagpur," says Swapnil. He would attend college in the morning and work as a ticket counter operator at the municipal garden after classes got over by noon. At each job, Swapnil learnt some skill. His job as a consignment helper with Nagpur-based Vaidya Industries taught him how to deal with people and ensure punctuality and order. “My job was to check if the quantity of the goods sent from the factory to the dealers or distributors was correct and if the goods were delivered. It was a decent job but I wasn’t getting paid much," Swapnil says. This was when his driving skill came in handy. In 2016, one of his friends suggested they buy a car on loan in partnership. “I still have eight loan instalments to repay but that will be taken care of. It was a good decision as it ensured a regular income," he says.
If he did have a choice and good education, what would he like to do? “I have no regret. Maybe a more professional job in a decent office," he says with a smile that speaks of a hard-earned success.