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Vendors’ World

Sunday, Jan 19, 2020 10:15 [IST]

Last Update: Sunday, Jan 19, 2020 04:36 [IST]

Vendors’ World

S. BALAKRISHNAN
‘Idiyappam, Idiyappam!’ Living in the street-facing second floor flat of Anna Nagar area in Chennai, I am privy to a host of calls by street vendors right from dawn to dusk and even during dark nights.
Just as the sun pops up regularly in the East, this is the first call of vendors in my area.  Idiyappam is nothing but rice noodle which, however, is steam-cooked (note the difference – not boiled like Maggi) and, therefore, easily digestible and highly suitable for the elderly, convalescing patients and kids. Out of the plain idiyappam sold at the doorstep, one can whip out different recipes – lemon idiyappam, pepper, sweet, tamarind and, the most delightful of all and my favourite, coconut milk idiyappam. When the Firangis of East India Company (EIC) were first served idiyappam, they did not know where to find the beginning of the thread-like delicacy and where its end was! A bit of history here – as you know, it was here in Madrasa Pattinam (the present Chennai City) that the EIC first established its trading post in 1639.  So, when matters get out of control and one is in deep trouble, we describe it as ‘idiyappa chikkal (problem)!’  Along with idiyappam, some vendors do bring in ‘puttu’, again a steam-cooked rice recipe. Though idiyappam is the first call, I would be an ungrateful dog if I do not recall the services of milk and newspaper vendors. After all, isn’t it divine to sit with a cup of hot filter kaapi (coffee) and read the hot news? But these two are silent vendors as they serve us even before we get out of our cozy bed. We get to see their face only once in a month when they come to collect the amount. Idiyappam vendors come again in the dusk also with a kind intention of helping the lazy cooks, the elderly, the sick, etc.
Then comes the ‘kola maavu’ seller. No, this is not another edible item but limestone powder used by womenfolk for drawing kolams (rangoli-like intricate designs done with dots-and-line) in front of the house in the morning and evening. Traditionally rice powder was used but lime powder is cheaper and brighter. A bit of politics here – Recently, when anti-CAA protests were raging, womenfolk here were arrested for drawing kolams with anti-CAA slogans. I am reminded here of the Kollywood thriller “Kola Maavu Kokila” wherein the lady superstar Nayanthara plays Kokila peddling ‘powder’ in the guise of kola maavu. Oh, well, it is time for cooking and vendors start streaming in selling various items.
My favourite is the fishmonger. Oh, what a sin! Amn’t I a vegetarian? Yet I can’t help loving her … I mean, her voice. She woos the ladies of the houses with a personal call of ‘yakka, meen vangalaya? (sister, aren’t you buying fish?). Alas! As a vegetarian I do not have any pretext of getting closer to her; it is another thing that the fish smell throws me off. Sigh! I longingly watch her stylishly fly off in her moped. Aren’t there men selling fish & crab, you might ask. Well, why should I care? After all, aren’t I a strict vegetarian?
Here comes the man selling only ‘keerai’ (greens). Among them are two/three varieties of red greens also, as if they have the right to differ against clubbing them as green greens. ‘Fresh vegetable’ sellers come in cycles and tricycles with their loads from Koyambedu wholesale market. On the other hand, a few vendors claim their stock as ‘naattu kai’, grown in farms in the suburbs of Chennai, hence truly fresh.  If there are exclusive vendors for vegetables, why not for fruits? Yes, indeed, but not that many. And among them there are also those who vend only a single seasonal fruit – watermelon, guava, mango and so on.
As I hear a tinkling sound I peep out to see a bullock cart with loads of potted plants, organic manure and red sand.  Tempted, I once bought a flower plant that was radiantly in bloom but that was the end of it. So styling myself as a cactus lover I started tending cactus varieties that really don’t need any tending or watering at all. What a blessing! It is evident that South Indian ladies love to have loads of flowers on their head. It is jokingly remarked that the ladies have left out only the banana flower from decorating their head and hair. So, to entice them come the flower sellers with rose & jasmine varieties along with flowers suitable for puja.
The word puja reminds me of vendors of bakthi (devotion). They are mostly Telugu people with a mobile temple of Sai Baba on tricycle blaring bakthi sangeet and spreading bakthi ‘movement’! They are not to be missed on Thursdays. A rare sight is that of a honey seller who also displays beehive to attract prospective buyers. I was more interested in buying that beehive but my offer was declined on technical grounds. How then would he convince the gullible buyers of genuineness? There are seasonal sellers like tamarind seller without which the enticing South Indian sambar or rasam can’t be prepared.
The tinkling bell of ice cream /sonpapdi / kulfi vendor, the rapping sound of balloon vendor, the ding-ding sound of the hot cauldron by peanut vendor draws kids rushing to them. ‘Sofa repair’ is a regular voice. There are also voices of some dying trades/professions; I really wonder how they survive! The knife sharpener is one such; what with stainless silver knives that don’t need sharpening, yet he is seen almost daily calling out with hope. The well deepener is another rare specimen. With wells becoming a museum piece, how does he survive! The coconut plucker/pruner somehow co-survives along with a few surviving individual houses and a few surviving tall coconut trees that are yet to be replaced with the hybrid short variety. If I may be permitted, I would like to add the boom-boom mattukaran in this category, though he is not really a vendor. Again, they are Telugu people who bring along a decorated bull that nods its head to their drum sound and blessings. An odd attraction for the mobile-addicted kids, indeed! If a person nods for all that you say, then he is called a ‘boom-boom maadu (cattle).’
Trash collection is a good business, it seems. While the Chennai Corporation has arranged for door-to-door collection of segregated trash as biodegradable & non-biodegradable, yet I find it really curious to see so many men crisscrossing in cycles, tricycles and vans to collect other trash – anything and everything that is old and out of use – old newspaper/magazine, electronic items, furniture, tv, computer, grinder etc., etc. The list is endless. Inquisitive of so many in the same trade, I did ask one of them and he replied the business was ok despite COMPETITION! I am amazed that our households hold so much of trash! One particular raddiwala’s singsong majestic voice so much attracted me but when I purposely called him for business, his looks belied his voice. I felt cheated.
Buyers of old silk-cum-zaree clothes keep blaring quite often. But my wife would not dispose of even her childhood silk saree which has seen its Golden Jubilee and is now in a touch-me-not condition! Her wardrobe reeks with the putrefied smell of old silk-zari sarees but it is a stubborn NO from her despite pleadings from the buyers.
Whereas I, a retired gentleman (?) lords them over from my balcony, they toil 24X7 – no Sundays, no holidays, no festivals. But thankfully they have adopted modern technology – they move about in 2-/4-wheelers, call out through mic & speaker and use pre-recorded messages. Oh, well, I can’t even overtly empathise or sympathise with them for fear of my lady love’s threat of disposing of me as an old retired nuisance to the raddiwala who would only readily cart me off to dispose of my various body parts!
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Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi