Sunday, January 15, 2006

Blast from the past

Reminiscing about days gone by, I often think about my childhood days in Bombay, playing cricket and generally raising innocuous hell in the by lanes of the suburbia.

Thinking about those days, my thoughts unfailingly revert to the steady stream of hawkers and vendors who would frequent our society buildings to ply their wares. Now having lived outside India for a long period of time, I no longer am sure that these vendors are part of the current urban scenery. But , in my mind, they still live, and when viewed with sepia tinted recollections, they seem to jump out of a storybook like one of those RK Narayanan “Malgudi Days” or Tagore’s characters from one of their novels.

The Bi-Cycle Walla: Summer vacation was bicycle time. Hordes of kids, the amateurs and the experts would rent bicycles from the cycle rental shop and pedal away, on the streets, in maidans, in society compounds, on footpaths and generally whatever free space was available. The cycle shop owner became a VIP during these months, to be accorded due respect and never to be questioned about his choice of bicycle that he rents out to you.

Befriending the cycle shop owner meant he reserved the racers bike (the ones with the curved handles) for you. And that was, oh so cool. “Cutting” other kids on their bicycles, when the hind wheel of your bicycle grates against the front wheel of another, was considered playing foul. Inevitably the cycle getting “cut” would crash to the ground, thereby splatting the rider on the ground, leaving him/her, tasting dirt. "Cutting" a girl rider was that much better, since there would be crying, tears and much melodrama involved. Not to say that you could not elicit the same response for some of the "girly" boys as well.

The Curd and Buttermilk Walla: A “muchhad” bhaiya, carrying two aluminum pots, with curd in one pot and salty buttermilk in another. Much like Shravan, carrying his parents on pilgrimage. He would make his rounds in the mornings, everyday. Buttermilk on hot Indian summer afternoons. Manna from wherever....

Kalai Walla: This guy used to polish old brass and steel vessels. He had a miniature kiln on a hand cart, and all the housewives/servant girls would line up while he rotated the hand-motor of the kiln and place the disfigured vessels over burning coals and then smear kalai (polish) on it to render it sparkling. After the kalai, he would dip the smoking vessel in cold water, which would cause a loud “woosh” and a small cloud of steam would emanate from the bucket. I can still smell the aroma of freshly polished vessels.

Bhandi Walli: These women came around with wicker baskets full of aluminum vessels, which could be exchanged for old clothes. Many people feared that they were, in fact, scoping houses out for burglary or petty thievery. It was also rumored that they carried small children away, in the clothes bag, so it was best to stay away from the “Bhandi” walli.

Kulfi Walla: On sweltering summer nights, he would come with a large pot on his head, bellowing just "peee...." and small conical kulfis, kept chilled in aluminum tubes, served on a stick, to be devoured with lusty little licks. Ummmm…..simply divine. And it came only in one flavor. Milk.

Channa Chorgaram Walla: These were flattened channa (chickpeas), spiced with hot pepper and warmed by a small coal warm box. The ‘bhaiyya’ would sprinkle lime juice on the Channa Chorgaram before serving. The only downside was that the quantity served was way too less. Always kept us yearning for more. But with a purchase worth 10 paisa, what more could one expect.

Gola Sherbat Walla: Multi colored balls of ice shavings, with sugary sweet “chachni” on top for scorching summer afternoons, kaala khatta or gola-sherbats for cricket match breaks on school grounds or just plain ice shavings to beat the heat. He used to be the “coolest” one, with the ice blocks covered with sawdust and wrapped in cloth, the multi-hued syrup bottles lined along the cart and the ubiquitous bells that summons kids and adults flocking to his cart. “Chal yaar, gola sherbet peete hain” was a common phrase heard in response to the bell clanging across school compounds, maidans and street corners.

Fillum Show Walla: There were these guys who used to come around with boxes on their heads, atop which usually sat a toy monkey with clanging cymbals, while kids preened into the box through a round opening to gawk at pictures of movie actors, Taj Mahal, the moon and anything else that would capture a child’s fancy. Anyone remember those guys? They used to sing funny songs and make funny noises while playing this “alleged” phillum. I think the song “Dilli ka Kutub Minar dekho” has been picturised around one such contraption. The film was nothing but pictures that were pasted against a paper or cloth background and a twine would keep the screen rolling and the pictures would change. Ah, simple pleasures.

Maybe I’m old, or rather getting old, but sans video games, 24-hours TV broadcast, Pokemons and DVD/videos, these merchants were an integral part of our lives growing up. In ways, you would not believe.


Anonymous Charu said...

nice post... one of those made-me-smile thingies :)
my favourite wala is the sonpapdi guy - the huge bell jar and the aling-clanging of the bell.. summer vacation memories are full of that sound and taste...

2:05 AM  
Blogger Karthik said...

Nice one.

In Tamil, there is a movie called 'Autograph' that tries to capture all your childhood memories ( from a village perspective). This movie won national acclaim, and is being made in Hindi as well.

Sourin, you should write a book about these people and their jobs that got lost in the process of urbanisation.


10:12 AM  
Anonymous IndianPad said...

lol, some of these descriptions were super funny! This does bring back memories... good post
Linked from IndianPad

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