Since lockdown had started, the part of Delhi I was staying in, Jorbagh, an already extremely quiet neighborhood , became practically silent, and I could hear a great deal of bird calls sitting in my balcony.
When I moved to Kolkata, initially in a high-rise in Alipore, things became even quieter, as no street sound could enter, past the extended driveway and gardens, and up many floors in the sky.
When we moved to our own house in Salt lake ,another very quiet tree lined street with no traffic, our house being at the dead end of a sparsely populated residential lane, a new sound permeated in along with the birdcalls, a sound that took me back to childhood, the street cries of hawkers of various hues.
The first was a man selling idli vada, South Indian breakfast snacks.
Then came the cycle bells of the newspaper boys and the thuds of newspapers hitting driveways and balconies.
The vegetable vendors came next, tinkling the bells of their van rickshaws and shouting out their ware, as did the fruit sellers.
They were joined soon by the purveyors of the most essential part of the Bengali cuisine, the fish sellers. They cried out the myriad varieties of fish kept in handis on their rickshaws, and proclaiming their freshness.
I am usually in my balcony at this time, having returned from my morning walk , reading my newspapers and solving the crosswords while this business on wheels and advertisement by lung power makes an interesting street theater in the otherwise deserted roads.
As the day goes on a variety of very interesting hawkers go about hawking their wares, all in eco friendly cycles and cycle rickshaws. The most common are the angels of recycling, the junk buyers. Everything is salable. Old newspaper, books, clothing, shoes, scrap metal, electronics, furniture, keys, plastic, glass bottles, utensils, hardware, equipment, anything you don’t need can be sold off. I wondered what they could be used for but everything is recyclable in India.
The garbage collector comes in a cycle van and whistles, a signal that all households should come out and empty your bins. Even here, a lady followed the van, scavenging anything that can be extracted from the garbage. This is recycling on steroids.
Next come the repairers. Whatever you don’t throw away can be fixed. Shoes, umbrellas, electronics, luggage, knives, keys,home gadgets, cycles, quilts, cutlery, clothes, furniture. All done while you wait. I am fascinated by the multitude of skills and the fact that it’s a workshop on wheels, cycle wheels.
Others come offering to prune your hedge, weed your garden,pick your coconuts or tend your lawn. I used the services of a coconut picker who also offered to buy all the coconuts I didn’t want to keep, adjusting his fees out of the proceedings.
There are also people offering to clear out bee hives and waspnests, and also sell fresh honey from cleared hives
Coconut water and sugarcane juice sellers compete with ice cream and sherbet vendors.
Then there are the equivalent of dime stores, only mobile. This gentleman uses a loudspeaker and creates some noise pollution to advertise his ware, but compensates by playing recorded Tagore songs to attract attention.
I wonder how these occupation have survived half a century, the only change being that they cycle instead of walking, bringing a host of goods and services to your doorsteps. They compete with malls, on line businesses, aggregators, chain stores, home delivery companies, like Amazons and Wal-Marts and still survive.
Perfectly eco friendly economical and indigenous, bringing colour and theatre to the streets.
Long live the vendors on the streets.