The Fruit Seller

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 ?


62 thoughts on “The Fruit Seller

  1. thank you Shekhar for sharing this diamond experience, it sparkles beyond any known clarity to the human eye…you mother had an insight to connectedness and valued it deeply.

  2. Hi Mr. Kapoor,
    Nice write up.
    I am a architecture student doing research on the network of such ‘wallahs’ in Jamshedpur.
    Am in Singapore presently, and more than once have commented on the lack of a human interface in daily activities like buying. Even now when I go back to Jamshedpur, the bread wallah, doodh wallah and dhobi refer to me as ‘baby’ having seen me since I was little!
    Its heartening to note how you value these small daily exchanges.

  3. Good write up Mr.kapoor,
    I think so much about my younger days of living back home…I am just 26 and have been away from home for just 3 yrs…still I miss home and My family….I think of the days when I was younger and sometimes when I was scared because of a bad dream my mum would sit beside me untill I sleep…and now when life it self sometimes turn into a bad dream all i can do is to call her but hide every nightmare I live here from her because i don’t want her to worry about her son who is far far away from her….
    Its life’s little but emotional dramas…
    Same with my dad…to convey to each other that we are fine in our respective places me and my dad, we discuss cricket scores…

  4. Recently having visited India, observing peoples open interaction with each other is something that makes western cultures appear sterile. Your recollection moved me, the art of story telling is alive still. I can see the old man under the tree remembering your mother to you…

  5. To get a different short story ,i thought a lot on different subjects, but the outcome was as not satisfying. Today when i read this story i learnt that they are just around us . Human emotions still have the power to deliver such an excellent story.
    You forced me today to think out of the box while staying in the box.
    Thank you.

  6. Dear Mr.Kapur,Hi!
    Life is a teacher,it teaches us new things every day.I came to know about this website through a local newspaper.After reading this real life incident of yours I now know that you are a down to earth person with a heart of crystal.I am sure that your mother is watching you and when she sees the achievements,name and fame you have gained she feels proud of her son and as the days passes she sould see her dreams come true.Hats off to you..
    Sarabjeet Singh Chadha

  7. The episode you have mentioned is nothing but our Indian culture. I don’t think the same is seen anywhere in the western world.
    I have seen your movies. Better you put such emotional episodes on canvas for the western world to realize what India is.
    The togatherness of people, even through small exchage of words with the people that we think of no importance, is uncomparable.

  8. hi shekhar,
    ur stories are as same as ur are, down to earth
    to much depth in ur heart…
    i proudly say u a great soul on erarth.
    aashish mall

  9. Shekhar,
    “The fruitseller” reminded me of smthng I wrote when I was missing home. Thought I’d share it with you.
    Not ‘isspecial’ enough
    Flimsy, white dandelion tufts are drifting lazily outside my bedroom window, in no particular direction. I stand mesmerized, watching them glide peacefully. Some stop over on the wild bushes near the walking trail next to my house, while others drift out of sight. It’s like having summer snow in the month of July.
    The quiet Gulmohar tree, behind my parents’ house in Pune, must have burst into fiery yellow-red blossoms by now. I can picture it — every golden-sanguine petal, auroral, against the bluish-gray monsoon sky.
    Dad’s bitty white Maruti, must be parked under it, at the same spot, he has been parking it for the last decade or so. It’s half-past-five in India. So, Mum must be hurrying all over the house. Setting the newspapers right, removing the chappati dough from the refrigerator for dinner and generally driving my father insane, with her last-minute tidying. She would have asked my sister what she would like to have for dinner, at least thrice by now. My sister will have nonchalantly replied whatever you want only to question later, why her opinions (especially on lunch and dinner) are never taken into consideration, in this house.
    This has been my mother’s routine, for the last decade or so, before she goes for her evening walk and buys groceries and vegetables for the day. She doesn’t have to go too far, for either. Almost everything is a stone’s throw away. Seven minutes away, there is the grocery store where mum buys eggs, bread, instant noodles and sometimes even rice, in case of a rare emergency or two. Five minutes outside the apartment complex gate, sits the vegetable vendor, squeezed in a tiny shack between a small Ganesha temple, an electronic repair shop, two tailors, who constantly compete for customers, and a cobbler. We’ve bought our tomatoes, onions and greens from this vegetable vendor, since the day we moved in after Dad’s last peace posting.
    The vegetable vendor is extremely temperamental, but mum prefers him to the dozen other vendor’s sitting in the opposite lane. She says his vegetables are always fresh. He treats her, as no other vegetable vendor ever does. While other women have to haggle with him for at least for 10 minutes, before he caves in to their demands, my mother is surreptitiously handed a plastic bag, magically produced from underneath an ordinary gunny sack. That’s the end of their transaction on a busy day. Otherwise they discuss everything from the state of the pot-holed streets to the rising price of onion. She is obviously his isspecial customer.
    It’s late in the evening, and as I sit contemplating on the porch, fireflies subtly light up the wild bushes and the walking trail.
    Wal-Mart is a 10-minute drive from my house. It’s in no way inconvenient. Every week, I go and pick vegetables laid in a neat row. It all looks good. It all looks fresh.
    Except, I am seldom given isspecial treatment like my mother.

  10. Pranam Sekharji,
    The article is really touchy and forces me to be more observatory from what i am. The people irrespective of the role played or the work done have the unique individuality which is something more than we can think of or expect of. I belive if you try your best to live your life trying to play role of a true human being, you can definetly play any role given to you “THE BEST”.
    With Regards,

  11. Shekhar , you have an amzing way of story telling that reflects . it may be ur real life incident but you wrote in such a way that it touches heart and that’s what you do with your films . I was watching a serial on DD were you and Satish Kaushik were in a office and talking about a lady who was maybe an IAS , I don’t remember exactly because it was few years back. But i liked it and though….. Sorry to confuse I only wanted to say you do all your work with perfection and love and what doesnot excite you will not do that…….

  12. beautiful.
    she must have been a special person.
    possible to also form somewhat a connect with the checkout girl at the superstore? I think it is.

  13. This is a very touching story and says a lot about a part of India that is dying a small death atleast in small towns if not villages. The personal touch of a human being is missing from our “super-market crazy” lifestyle. I remember my Mom always insisting the sabzi-wallah to add some mirchi-dhania as a compliment.

  14. why did you think about this again today? and in the past few days you have been wrestling with what love means and self-worth and treasuring “moments”.
    somewhere, a cool breeze of your mother’s love brushed past you and you remembered when she looked into your eyes and said “God bless you” and you saw the universe.
    every child should grow up like that.

  15. Hi Mr.Kapoor,
    A very nice writeup on the unconsciously observed moments of our childhood quite well-knitted into our memories.This writeup once more made me realise,its hard to get home away from home.
    No matter how many great and happening restaurents and bars I visit in the capital,no way it compensates the gossip shared with mom just before going to bed.
    Miss home.

  16. Bhajiwalla’s are there still having personal communications; but the taste of our desi green kelas, chikoos and apples are dissappearing thanks to all the agricultural treaties. Foreigners are relishing them.

  17. You’ve poured your heart out Kapoor sir!
    Nice Touchy post!
    There r really some relations in the world which are bound not by blood but by mere apples/eggs/vegetables….
    Its been 3 months now but I am still sulking over my istriwallah’s death 🙁 These wallah have a unique corner in our hearts.

  18. lovely article sir…a sheer delight to read it…getting joy from simple things of our life has indeed lost today…in this fast,competitive world,we hardly sit and think about these people & their stories of life…we are so busy with our own success,fame and personal fulfillment that we don’t even bother to see what is life outside our own periphery…today we have got tons of shopping malls but hardly a sympathetic soul to share our feelings…

  19. We become alike through the experiences we get in life. We are who we are, cause our mothers were a great playwright and gave us the brilliant roles and scripts of our lives.
    I however had to change the script a bit and played it to such perfection, that even Al Pacino would have been proud my natural acting. But I hope no one else have to play it again.
    That was summer of 1996, I was the hotshot manager whom everybody in the office loved, admired and looked up to “as I could do anything I wish”. Worst of it, I believed the hype about me then.
    Only One big thorn in life was My Mom’s cancer had recurred and was getting worse. Me, My elder brother and Father took her to many specialists. I along with my brother had decided not to tell the diagnosis to any one, always keep her in cabins during hospitalization. Once I missed the trip to the doctor and my bro told me doctors are on verge on giving up. I on the other hand, picked up the latest reports from the labs and there were some minor improvements.
    Next day, I was there before the first patient could go in with the new reports. I have a 5 min. sales speech to the doctor explaining the improved reports trying to sell my theory.
    The doc asked if I would like some water. He explained that cancer was spreading through her lungs and then it might in all probability affect the brain. He said not to take her to any doctors, as even drives were getting too painful for her.
    All I could get was a prescription for set of extreme painkillers. Asked if chemotherapy would help, No was the answer. Doctor crossed over and patted on my shoulder and brushed my hair a bit and said the dreaded words “I am sorry and there is nothing that anyone can do, You did all a man could do”.
    I went out of the Clinic as a man bereft of all emotions and expressions. The streetlights all looked dim, dirty and pale.
    No hailing cabs, No waiting for bus; I walked briskly. Perhaps I thought I could literally walk or run myself out of that dreaded reality. Potholes, litter, garbage on the street did not slow me down. I was sweating profusely and yet would dare not stop, not even for a smoke.
    After a 40 minutes, I was out of breath. I bent down, hands on my knees, gasping for some air on the footpath. A Bus came behind me, a typical calcuttan private bus conductor calling out my neighbourhood “Salllake, Salllake, Ultadanga..”.
    I boarded the bus, stopped at the neighbourhood chemist, bought the medicine and reached home.
    My brother opened the door, ignoring him, went straight to my mom. Waving the new prescription and the new medicine, I declared “It just jaundice, see the new count. its getting better. The new medicine is just a painkiller.” She smiled and said “I am feeling better,already” and even asked me I would like some tea. Dad bought my story, brother knew the truth from very strangeness of the act. Mom said “Take some rest”, I smiled back, cuddled up next to her pillow (Fist time in a decade or so), She brushed my unruly hair, I felt secure, tearless, fearless in the arms of the woman who gave me the world.
    Later that summer she passed away in peace, never screaming, wailing.
    Reading your story Shekhar, this memory came back and felt compelled to tell you.

  20. I have experienced similar pangs when living outside India. Of all the people I missed were my Bai, Subzi walli, Phal wallah, Dhobi, Istari wallah with whom I had chatted as if close friends and learnt a lot about the ‘other’ India. The joy I saw on their face when they spotted me on my periodical visits. Unadultrated!! Those days are gone forever. Now I indulge in Tweeter and Facebook, but it is not the same!

  21. It was a sole touching experience and really those wallas concepts are being missed today.

  22. Really touched by the real story,this is because nothing was fake at that time,definitely not the emotions and a rapport building between the street walah & people living around.But that is also true about the sudden announcement that so and so subzi walah /candy floss walah,toy walah died because of some illness,that made us cried reasons not known at that time,they used to give us,the little children extraa amount of sweet candy or extra something(chhunga)for nothing,your narration made me cried about the death of your mother as if i was separated from someone of my own near dear.

  23. Hi shekar.
    I live in japan. When I got my parents for first time they liked this place but after some days they started feeling lonely Alone. No social interactions. Ur absoultely right.
    I was speaking to my mom a while ago. One can feel that we guys who stay out of india miss life a lot.
    Thanks for sharing.
    A just relived some on my panipuris dosa on the roads of mumbai. Going into the hotel n ask a class of free water instead of mineral water from vending machine.
    Eating wadapav n bhaijias. Chaat on beaches.

  24. I am reading this blog from Rochester NY…..Apr 12…time for lunch..1210 PM….
    “I put my head on this complete strangers shoulder and sobbed my heart out as he comforted me”
    I read the above phrase and I could feel the warm tears in my eye…….controlled…open my eyes wide…wide…and wide…tried my best not to let it out…hope u understand….
    So is the feeling…….all true my friend..its hard and tough…

  25. Its ur story but it feels that we all are part of it…
    there is so much that i wanna say abt wat u have written but i just cant find the rgt words that can justify the feelings i am goin thru after reading the story…
    Bless U…

  26. Beauty of bargaining life and longings. Your story”fruit seller”reminds me of my fruitseller from Bihar in guwahati. I too share my lonliness with him. He would tell me about the people of his village,their mentality,one day I told him to take my old good shoes,as he has three daughters. He flatly refused saying,”didi hamar betiya ko log bura kahengey.” I was bit zapped and asked him why,he replies,aree chamre ka jutey chodiye,hamar gaon mey hawai chappal pahanna hi bahut bada baat haii. I said”kiya baat hai,tuhar betiya ko kahe,guwahti mey nahi latey,mein hun na,taloring,wailoring ke kaam sikha dengey,apna dukan hoga,apna izzat badegi.” The fruitwalla said,”tab toh aur bhi badi baat ho jayegi.” Is baar kaun si badi baad? I asked he replies,”koi saadi nahi karega,mera izzatka sawal hein.” I had to quit
    Great fruitsellers
    Greater is your story shekar
    Lovita morang.

  27. You r a master of this art of storytelling. I miss similar sounds like chirping birds, jamun and phalse wallas

    “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.”

    HOW the Walmart culture has imposed fake smiles on the faces of counter boys/girls.
    so mechanical, the same shallow smile every time no matter what we say in anger, in grief, in frustration or even in an insulting manner. All that you receive is the same labeled smile like it was the price tag on their emotions.
    every thing their is machine, non-living. the packed products with no life.
    no freshness
    not like the THELLAS of FUL and SABZI. the fresh smell of sprayed water on the sabzis.
    i bet you wont enjoy that scent in the retail shop
    neither you can get free DHANIYA and HARI MIRCH with even a half KG of AALOO 🙂

  29. Couldn’t help noticing a handful of typos at first glance, which are as follows (of course, i.e. up to the point when this is being written):
    4th para, 6th line: the ‘Sonhar’. that would remake your gold jewelry,.
    6th para, 1st line: passd away,
    6th para, 2nd line: and an went through
    7th para, 3rd line: I told her she had died, and he
    4th para, 6th line: frst time
    last line of 11th para: complete strangers shoulder

    I’m unsure if it’ll help any, but as mentioned before, just couldn’t help pointing ’em out. I know some will come critical of my comment, but that’s fairly understandable. I’ve no intention whatsoever to discredit Shekhar. Not a fan, but I’ve enjoyed his work.

  30. u make us realte to ourownself,which is lost somewhere in todays goosebums. loves it. god bless you. :)keep well.

  31. Thanks for sharing.Its sad the way the old ways are giving in to the new..slowly the human touch loses is value.with Wall Mart n the like soon to take over our daily requirements we most likely to turn into the robotic western lot.
    With changing times men must change too.. in spite of our desire to cling to the known and comforting ways.

  32. Your twitter followers had an emotional day!! As tears rolled down their cheeks, each one of them remembered their family and extended family that included the dhobis, the milkman, the postman!!
    A story so beautifully told !!

  33. Dear Shekhar, Your story was heart touching story. They say Memories do not leave like people do. They always stay with You. It is only when a person passes away does everyone comes to know the true picture of that particular person.

  34. Dear Shekhar,
    I have always liked the simplicity of your presentations and this story (experience ?) was also like a friend narrating to another freind.
    So many people have written so much and so well about Mother. I am not very well read, but, the following lines of Shri Harivansh Rai Bacchan are my all time favourite (they may have been written by the Poet in some other context):

    Mujh mein hai devatv jahaanpar,
    Jhuk jaayega Lok vahaanpar.
    Par, na milenge ab
    Meri durbaltaaon ko bhi dulaarne wale….
    Beetae din phir kab aanewale ?

    When you are Great, an acheiver, the whole world applauds. But only a Mother offers unconditional acceptance.

  35. Dear Shekhar ji,

    Strange but just this morning I left a comment on a friend’s blog sharing my story about the Raddiwallah and my mother selling him my precious collection of books! Just like that.In my absence.

    Thank God we still can communicate with all our dear Wallah family here in India.The only difference is one guy seems to have set up shop and no longer comes by on his cycle armed with those suspect scales(ma always would end up arguing with them over this) with the stone ‘baat’ to collect from us.I have to hire an autorickshaw and stop by his little shop in the colony.

    Thank you for sharing this link on Twitter-been looking at your tweets of late:) Moving story.

    And may I add that I loved you in “Udaan”(I guess all celebs have to put up with this one)


  36. If I were hanged on the highest hill,
    Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
    I know whose love would follow me still,
    Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

    If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
    Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
    I know whose tears would come down to me,
    Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

    If I were damned of body and soul,
    I know whose prayers would make me whole,
    Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

    ~ Rudyard Kipling

  37. Yaad Aagyi Hindustan ki Wah kya baat kahedi dil ko chhu gayi , well That’s why we always say Jai Hind !!

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