In the bustling metropolises of today, the greatest sound you hear are the blaring horns and the noise of the traffic. But I remember when Delhi was a city full of the welcoming cries of the Street Sellers, the ”Wallah’s.
I remember very clearly the sound of the Sabzi walla. It went :
Sabzzzi le lo-o-o !!!
And then he would out the names of each of the vegetables he was carrying that day. And the shouts of Ande (eggs) wallah. Who had a particularily rough relationship with my mother. Especially in summer when a lot of the eggs had to be returned as they were ion the verge of hatching. I have always wondered why modern eggs – even the ‘Organically fed and free to roam and allowed to indulge in the natural behaviours’ ones never actually threaten to hatch. There was even the “Gold wallah’, the ‘Sonhar’. that would remake your gold jewelry,. As went by proudly on his newly acquired bicycle shouting “Sonhar hai, Sone ka kaam karwa lo-o-o-o”.
We used to have the vegetable seller and the fruit seller, all come to the house, and my mother would sit and argue with them. Bargain with them fiercly, as would they. But in the process she knew where their families lived, what village they came from and how things were in the village. Bargaining was an act of great individuality for her, as well as a social intercourse. The first time I took her to one of the emerging supermarkets in India, she hated it. She hated prices being fixed and stamped over the goods. She hated check out counters. She missed the social interaction with her Fruit Seller, her Sabzi Walla, her Ande Walla etc.
When my mother passd away, rather suddenly, I had been away from our family house for many many years. I went back and an went through all the rites, and stood by my greiving family, determined now to take charge and be a comfort to all, except myself. I was after all the son, and expected to be stoic.
Two days later there was a call of the Fruit Seller, and I walked out of the house. There was an old man with a whole basket of fruit, and he asked for my mother. I remember him being thin and with a great white moustache and sunburnt wrinkled skin. I told her she had died, and he sat under the tree. Sad and contemplative..
“She was a great lady” He said “and who are you ?”
“I am her Son” I said.
He beckoned me towards him. Put his hand on my shoulder, and told me so much about me. About all my mother’s dreams for me, of how much she had missed me when I was away in London.
And for the frst time since I heard the news of my Mother’s death I broke. I put my head on this complete strangers shoulder and sobbed my heart out as he comforted me.
My mother and the fruit seller. How much must they have got to know each other just through the act of bargaining over apples ?