Champa Devi owns a chai shop on a thoroughfare just outside of Patna, the capital and largest city in the Indian state of Bihar. Trucks, cars, auto rickshaws, motorcycles, and a host of foot traffic pass by in droves. It is rush hour, her busiest time of day. She smiles warmly, conscious of her foreign visitors and the photographer’s camera, which follows her as she moves swiftly along a rough-hewn wooden counter, serving up steaming glasses of tea from a blackened pot. Customers sit along the counter and on benches behind her, their postures nonchalant but eyes intently watching.
Champa Devi was widowed five years ago when her husband died unexpectedly on the way to the hospital after complaining of pain in his stomach. She was left grieving and suddenly the sole provider for her four children. They all live together behind the chai shop off of her monthly profits of 6,000 to 7,000 rupees ($100 to $115).
She has to hustle for her earnings, starting her day at 3:00 a.m. so as not to miss the business of chaidrinking truckers who are accustomed to stopping in at 4:00 a.m. In addition to chai, she sells plates of nimki – a fried dough stick that is a popular evening snack. It sells for about 15 cents a plate.
Life is unpredictable and earning a living is a scramble for Champa Devi. But somehow she is making progress. This seems to be due, in large measure, to her own business savvy and hard work. She also acknowledges the role of Accion partner and microfinance provider Saija, which has financed her supply of staples such as tea, sugar, milk, and fuel. Before taking a loan from Saija, she purchased these supplies daily. She now adds a bit to her margins through the savings she gains by buying in bulk; she also saves on time away from the shop by stocking up every couple of weeks.
“I want my children to study as long as they can – not to take over my business. I am also working to provide my daughters with great dowries so they can marry well.” Looking up from the narrow passage between her living quarters and the shop, we can see a second story under construction. It’s a project that stops and starts, progressing as she accrues savings. She and her children look forward to having the extra space. Champa Devi has much of which to be proud.