Street play at sundown


High up in the sky, the moon is a sliver of silver on a late evening sky that is still blue. The moon seems to be gliding peacefully far above, totally oblivious to the goings-on below.

Down here, there is a sense of desperation, as people try to make the most of the last few hours of the weekend before the work week starts.

The market street looks chaotic. People, street hawkers and vehicles jostle for space, as they strive to reach their goals for the week.

Splashes of colour in the form of fresh fruits and vegetables, sarees on display and vibrant colour baskets dot the crowded street.

Everybody seems to be in a hurry, there is a sense of urgency to people’s actions, to the last calls of the street hawkers attempting to close sales for the week. Then again, there are those who stop at local street food stalls to partake of chaats, pizza and other Indian snacks.

There is a sensory overload – a blurring motion picture of rainbow colours, the loud hum of human chatter, the aroma of street food, the weaving and the jostling…..!

Amidst all this chaos are the balloon sellers, who walk up and down the street carrying ballons, toy ferris wheels that spin merrily in the evening breeze and other toys that entice children, whose eyes trail the balloons even as their bodies have gone on ahead with their parents, who hold them in vice-like grips, lest they get lost in the teeming crowd!

We have to pause frequently as we walk down, simply because there is no way to move.

That’s when we stop to enjoy this evening street play!

The Vegetable Vendor


My husband’s parents live in a close-knit community of independent homes; where people have known each other for many decades.

The streets are always bustling with chit-chatting neighbours, children playing on the streets and vehicles weaving in and out. There always seems to be some excitement, amidst all this bustle.

Neighbourhood shops are a mere stone’s throw away, and one can pick up most anything from these self-contained shops that are tucked away all around the community.

What makes the atmosphere more vibrant are the street vendors, who have their regular ‘beat’ around the various streets.

Their calls, as they hawk their goods, are distinct. Each vendor arrives at a particular time – some on all days, some on alternate days, and some others on the weekends.

I am standing at the doorstep watching the goings-on in the street. The vegetable vendor arrives, parks his push cart outside our door, and calls out, “Tomatoes, beans, onions, potatoes…”.

The ladies saunter towards the cart, with their own bags. They carefully examine and pick and choose the veggies. The vendor’s eyes are hawk-like as he weighs, bargains, and closes multiple deals.

He throws in some coriander leaves, curry leaves and ginger for free, making every customer happy!

There is some personal banter – after all, he meets these people every day. Money and vegetables are exchanged. He takes a breather, someone brings him a cup of tea. He relishes it, while delicately balancing his cart.

I ask him if I can click a picture. He happily agrees. He smiles. His veggies look happy too!

He is on his way soon, to the next street on his beat.

Bliss in a butter dosa!


The mid morning heat envelopes us.  My husband and I are in the city of Bengaluru, making our way through winding streets and small alleys that are crammed with shops that sell every thing that one could ever want.

The sound of blaring horns and moving vehicles is punctuated by street hawkers selling their wares – clamouring for attention. People are moving, elbows jostling, from shop to shop or hawker to hawker, inspecting clothes or kitchen utensils or fruit or flowers, bargaining, closing deals. Some people are oblivious to the cacophony as they plod on, expertly weaving their way through the wave of humanity.

My husband and I are working our way down the ‘all-important’ shopping list. After weaving through the labyrinth, we are finally done and feel a sense of accomplishment.

My husband suggests that we go to a small eatery called CTR (short for Central Tiffin Room), a small restaurant that has been around for decades. My husband raves about their speciality – benne dosa (meaning butter dosa). The dosa is a South Indian delicacy, which looks like a pancake. The dosa is salty and not sweet. It usually has a potato stuffing, and is eaten with various chutneys and sambar. 

I am easily persuaded. We walk down to CTR. We are given a table on the first floor.

We order the benne dosa and await its arrival. When the golden dosa arrives, I am in bliss. Golden crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, with potata masala stuffed inside. The chutneys and sambar are perfect.

The butter-soaked dosa is superlative. It melts in the mouth. Truly delicious!

Like true South Indians we finish with a cup of strong filter coffee served in cute stainless steel tumblers.

                   Bliss is in a benne dosa and filter coffee!

Of piggybacks and a sack of salt


If you are an aunt or uncle, a grandma or grandpa, an older cousin or a mom or dad to young kids, you must have, at some point in time, belonged to the Piggyback Club.

I still remember being given piggyback rides by my Dad and Uncle.  Mad spins in the living room, and a gentle drop from Dad’s shoulders to the soft couch!

image

Courtesy – http://www.canstockphoto.com

And it was never enough!  Where I grew up, we called this ‘Uppu Mootai’, which translates to ‘Sack of Salt.’

During my childhood, along with the small convenience stores – which sold just about everything under the sun – street hawkers were quite popular too.

They hawked their goods in different sing-song voices. I remember the man who sold ‘greens’, who had this cackling voice. We could set our clocks by his loud voice, he was so punctual.

Then we had the vegetable seller, who had a push cart that was loaded to the brim with colourful and healthy veggies.

Then again, there was the man who sold salt. He usually came once in a fortnight, and had a deep but loud voice, which said, “Uppu, Uppu”, meaning salt, salt. He called out with no modulation at all. The periods of silence between each of his shouts was precise. Uppu, uppu..pause pause pause..Uppu, uppu.

The salt man usually carried the salt in a gunny bag that was slung on his back.

When children were given piggyback rides, the adults carrying them probably looked like  ‘salt sellers’.

The name has stuck. Even today people use the name Uppu Mootai for piggybacking.

Walking down a busy street


In India, most cities and towns have these streets (the equivalent of the high streets that one finds in the West), which are the nerve-centres for everyday shopping. Ranging from supermarkets to cafes and clothes retailers, these streets have them all.

It is early evening, and there’s a nip in the air. Winter’s setting in and wollen caps and sweaters are in evidence.

I am walking down the busiest street in our area, looking to buy some footwear. There are hundreds of people on the street. The street slopes downwards, and from where I stand, I get a wonderful view of the bustle.

People are getting home after a long day at work and stopping-by to either pick up supplies, buy take away dinner, buy vegetables or stand around – eating piping hot samosas and drinking masala chais.

I stroll down and soak-in the spirit of the place. My first stop is before a lady who sells flowers. She is a street-hawker and has a cane basket with different flowers.

image

I see that she has these lovely purple-mauve flowers, popularly known as the ‘December Poo’, meaning flowers that bloom in December. The flowers have been beautifully threaded into long rolls. I ask her if I can click a picture and she obliges, as do many others.

Twilight sets in and the birds are flying back to their nests, flocks of them dotting the sky. Below, people are also in a hurry to get home.

image

The peanut seller and the corn seller have set up their trolleys at vantage locations to catch the crowds. The lady selling corn has a burning coal pit, over which she lazily turns a corn cob. The smells are delicious.

There are many more stalls that sell flowers and vegetables. The ladies are seated adjacent to each other, their stalls lit by single electric lamps. The veggies are neatly arranged in baskets.

image

At every stall, people are bargaining. We Indians (both the vendors and the buyers) love to bargain. So, back and forth go the discussions, till finally both sides are happy.

image

There are stalls selling earrings and clips and rubber bands. All those small things that make-up our every day lives.

There is so much energy all around me. A slice of everyday life. I click a few pictures.

image

I stop by at a famous bakery, famous for its butter biscuits and honey cakes. IĀ order butter biscuits ‘to go’, and sink my teeth into a deliciously soft honey cake. I observe the street, as the cake melts in my mouth.

Twilight has transformed into night. Stars make their appearance, a twinkle here and a twinkle there, as I head homewards.

Grandparents


The kids have their summer vacation, and are spending a couple of weeks with their paternal grandparents, in their ancestral home.

We do this every summer. They love all the nooks and crannies in this house. The car garage, which is now used for storage,  is their play space as they play hopscotch or practice ‘rangoli’ (artistic designs that are drawn outside the home every morning).

My daughter has been given the entire garage to draw these rangolis. Dropping rice flour gradually on the floor, with uniformity, is an art, and with each passing day, she gets better.

My son finds great pleasure in playing with clothes pegs (the plastic ones which come in vibrant colours), and the measuring tape, which has spring action. He measures all kinds of things in the house.

Living in an apartment as we do, they are thrilled with the concept of an independent house with a yard and a garden, and a nice big terrace.

They run up to the terrace to dry clothes or red chillies and other things that need to be aired or sun-dried.

They read old-yellowed books that formed my husband’s childhood reading.

They sniff appreciatively when they smell their grandma’s cooking. Their grandparents spoil them, and some. They eat almonds and pistachios. They are treated to honey cakes and butter biscuits. They binge on yummy golden yellow mangoes and jackfruit.

They are very excited each time they hear street hawkers shouting out what they are selling.  In a few days, they know which vendor comes when. They watch as their grandmother picks and chooses vegetables and greens, fruits and flowers. They watch how the hawker pushes his mobile cart down the street and how he weighs the vegetables using a simple balance.

They go around the yard and see the old washing stone, used to wash clothes. They watch clothes fluttering on the clothesline and play hide and seek there.

They see the yard filled with dried leaves and fallen flowers every morning and participate enthusiastically in sweeping the yard.

They watch as the ‘Isthriwallah’ (the iron man), brings back neatly arranged piles of fresh, ironed clothes. They bury their noses to feel the warmth.

They seem to have expandable stomachs and are able to eat through the day. They accompany their grandparents on small walks to the local shops to buy odds and ends, and come back with treats.

It is nice to see them unwind and enjoy the simple joys and pure love that they can only get at their grandparents’!