Prata sellers here abused, but they still feed the hungry

Prata sellers here abused, but they still feed the hungry
A patron is slumped over in the corner.
PHOTO: The New Paper

It is past midnight, and the prata stall is bustling.

Revellers from clubs at Clarke Quay stumble into New Shah Alam at Circular Road, looking for their prata fix.

But while most eat and leave without incident, some cause trouble for the workers.

The stall is not alone. Since 2017, there have been three reported cases of prata stall employees getting attacked. In the most recent case last July, a trio slashed a cook for not giving them free prata.

New Shah Alam owner Mohamed Kamaludeen Babu Hussain, 44, said the stall has seen its share of incidents in the past 15 years under his management.

"Life is hard as a prata seller," he said. "Many people drink too much around the area and come here. Some are troublemakers."

There have been several fights, and Mr Kamaludeen, a Singapore PR, said his staff are often abused.

As The New Paper was interviewing him, an aggressive customer stormed to the counter, threatening to leave if his food was not served immediately.

Despite such incidents, Mr Kamaludeen goes about his business with a smile.

"Fighting is not very common, but when people do fight, it's usually over staring incidents or girls," he said.

"People also vomit all over, or sleep and then don't want to wake up, or shout at my staff and throw the food at them."

He said groups of young men also often leave one at a time without paying.

Mr Kamaludeen said: "The last person then says he's paying only for himself. When we ask about the rest, he'll claim he doesn't know them.

"What to do? Just let it go. We make a loss, but it's okay."

While there are numerous CCTV cameras around the stall, staff are reluctant to call the police for incidents like these.

Mr Kamaludeen said: "We don't call the police often, why bother them?"

Many prata stall workers are from Malaysia and India. Those who spoke to us said they work here to earn more for their family back home.

Some work the graveyard shift for weeks, accumulating days-off for a longer trip home to see their children.

But feeding hungry late-night customers is not easy, especially when they are drunk.

Even in the heartlands, drunken patrons are common.

In 2017, a cook at a Mr Prata stall in Tampines was punched by a drunken customer even when the police were there. The assailant was later jailed.

Mr Suresh Kumar, 33, a Malaysian who has been working at Mr Prata for nine years, said there are several coffee shops in the area that sell beer till late.

FREE PRATA?

The idea of getting free prata caused a stir when a drunken trio slashed a cook at prata stall Habib's Express in Clementi last year, when he refused to give them some. But the notion is not new, and is a "legacy" from old Singapore, said prata stall owners.

Habib's Express' stall owner, Mr Mohamed Habib, 33, said that about three years ago, people would ask for free prata and rice at the stall.

They would often oblige out of goodwill, but they refused to do so for the men last year as they were drunk. The men who attacked the staff were jailed this year.

Mr Habib said: "The recent sentencing of the men has given confidence to my staff. They feel the law will protect them."

But he said the issue was more about basic respect and human decency.

Mr Habib said: "Most of my staff are from overseas, normally from India, and they sometimes get bullied by Singaporean customers.

"Some will say things like, 'You don't know English, don't talk to me', or 'You come from India, go back'."

DEMANDING FREE PRATA A PRACTICE FROM THE PAST

The practice of demanding free prata from a stall is a "legacy" from old Singapore, said a third-generation prata seller at Adam Road Food Centre.

Mr Mohamed Kalith Mohamed Anver, 27, said his grandfather and father were prata sellers who had to deal with people demanding free food in their time.

"Gangsterism was common in the 1950s, and gangsters would often demand free prata because the stall was on their turf," he said.

"It was still a thing about two decades ago."

This was why his grandfather and father kept their sideburns long, to make themselves look "scary".

"They said it was because they had to look gangster-like, so the gangs wouldn't see them as pushovers and keep demanding free food," said Mr Kalith.

Even today, there are still people who approach prata stalls asking for free food, but these are mostly the needy.

"We do give them what we can, out of pity," he said.

"Even then, they don't really take it for granted we will give them anything."

He said if it was a drunkard who came over and demanded free prata, it is unlikely he would be entertained.

"If someone came up to me now and demanded free prata, I would be quite shocked," he said.

"It is a practice from history. Singapore isn't like that now. I don't have to keep long sideburns."

PRATA FIGHTS

AUG 22, 2017

A group of men who had been drinking went to the Mr Prata stall at Block 476, Tampines Street 44.

They became rowdy, and argued with staff members. Even when the police were called in, the men continued shouting at the employees.

When one of the cooks filmed the incident with his mobile phone, he was punched on his left cheek, causing his head to hit the table.

The 25-year-old man who punched him was jailed two weeks this year.

APR 5, 2018

A 34-year-old man was arrested for being a public nuisance after a fight with a prata stall worker at Holland Drive Food Centre at 44 Holland Drive.

The fight was alleged to have been caused by a payment dispute.

After being arrested, he was taken to hospital.

JULY 29, 2018

Three men, who had been drinking near Habib's Express at Block 710 Clementi West Street 2, tried to get free prata from the stall.

When they were refused, they got a 19cm knife and slashed the cook.

The trio - aged between 38 and 59 - were sentenced to jail terms from 10 months and two weeks to a year. Two of them were also caned.

This article was fiirst published in The New Paper. Permission required for reproduction.

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