You may be a perfectionist at work, professional in all your life-decisions and absolutely no non-sense in everything; you may be taking life-altering decisions in office or following your passion like there’s no end but if you see two kids playing ‘don’t let the balloon touch the floor’, your instincts kick in and you make it your responsibility to see to it that the floating ball of air doesn’t touch the damn floor!
The Big Deal
Yes, that’s the power of a balloon, a simple stretched outline of latex filled with air that takes you back to your days of childhood. And while balloons were a treat to play with (and burst too), there were these special ‘gas balloons’, the ones that would want to float up in the air and had to be clung on to, in order to keep them from floating away! The smile brought on our faces through that simple floating balloon cannot be brought back by the latest of smart phone apps today.
Disappearing into the thin air
So, in the quest of reliving that smile, we at Beacon Kolkata set out on a quest to find the gas balloon walas of Kolkata. The magic men who would conjure the finest of gas-filled balloons that would want to float away into the sky, testing our skills to cling on to the thread. And quite a quest it was to find the gas balloon walas as the deeper we dug in the more we got to realize how a source of joy of our childhoods has simply disappeared quite literally into thin air. Of course we still have a handful swanky shops selling figure balloons in the malls, but the joy brought on by the gas balloon wala was something else altogether.
The rickety broken cart, a tingling bell hanging by the side, the magic gas-producing machine hiding inside and a handful assortment of colourful balloons tied in one corner – this is how we recollect the gas balloon walas of Kolkata and while we were on the brink of giving up we came across Mohammed Akram, a man in his early 60s, who still goes around the city in his cart, selling gas balloons- A true and blue Gas Balloon wala of Kolkata. Here’s the story of the man who quite possibly is the last of the handful few gas balloon walas left in Kolkata.
The Balloon Man
Mohammed Akram began selling balloons in Kolkata way back in the 1980s and has raised a family through this trade.
“Earlier there were many of us. More than at least a thousand gas balloon walas in the city. We would go to different localities to sell the balloons and meet outside Victoria in the evening. Slowly as things began to change, the numbers kept reducing. Then, one fine day we were banned from setting up stall near Victoria Memorial. That came as a death knell to us” said Akram who sets up shop every evening at the Elgin Road-Lansdownne Road crossing.
Mohammed Akram bought his gas-filling machine close to 35 years ago for a sum of Rs 500 and while things have come and gone, his machine still works smooth as silk.
“In my initial days I have even sold balloons for 3 paise and 5 paise. That’s how long I have been doing this for. There have been days when I have sold more than 3,000 balloons and days when I haven’t even sold 3” said Akram
Mohammed Akram is one of those integral pieces in the jig-saw puzzle that makes Kolkata the city that she is. He might as well be the last gas balloon wala of Kolkata.
If you want to show support to this hero of the city you can contact him at: +91 9339534764 (Please be gentle, he’s an old man)