Vantage point

Friday, July 26, 2002


At the turn of the last century....................... heehee, that sounds so majestic and pompous. But it is right, so I will say it. At the turn of the last century, our class of Electronics and telecomm went on a "study tour" to Northern India. We visited Agra, Delhi, and Rajasthan. You would be surprised to see Agra and Rajasthan on the itinerary of the "study tour" (by these quotes signs, i mean to actually put my two hands in the air and draw quote signs like they do on TV) of a class, learning Electronics, well, that's a post for another day.

Maharashtra in general and Pune in particular is notorious for its unenterprising shopkeepers. Hence the peddlers in Pune too are pretty stoic and disinterested. Their attitude seems to say "hey, This is what i am selling. tell me if you want to buy, but don't waste my time". They won't convince you or hound you, or even show the slightest bit of interest in you. In Pune, the peddlers act so detatched that after the sale is done, you feel obliged that the great peddler took time out of the period he had reserved for 'meditating about the deeper issues faced by the human race' and actually sold you something. Get the picture?

Ok, Now join me as we cross the Vindhyas, march a little further and enter the city known for it's monument of love.

We were supposed to leave very early in the morning since we had a very busy day ahead of us. At about 6:30, since the hotel we were living in was probably owned by a Marathi, the kicthen hadn't opened yet. So we set out to hunt a tea stall so that we could warm ourselves on that chilly December morning. We were not prepared for what would ensue.

Firstly, it took us a lot of time to locate a tea stall. the first thela(handcart) that we saw was selling jalebis, laddoos, halwa and barfis. I had never seen anyone sell sweets out in the open and that too in the morning. What was even more surprising was that he had quite a few customers giving him business. However a kid he had employed came and attached himself to us.

"Bhaiyya, mithai kha lo" he pleaded.

"Nahi chahiye" one of us responded.

"Bhaiyya, kha lo na" he persisted.

This persistence continued with the boy insisting that we have sweets at his employer's stall. The way he talked was as if he was offering us the food of gods or something.

If you feel this boy was just an aberration, you are mistaken. All the stalls that followed, selling even more unexpected food stuff, had such scouters who would at times even cling on to your clothes, in an attempt to lure you into buying their absolutely undesirable concoctions. I mean, who eats such heavy sweets in the morning? Especially and avowed sweet-hater like moi?

So this was our first brush with peddlers. The next followed on the way to the Taj Mahal. As you might be knowing, you have to walk quite a long distance from the parking spot to reach the Taj. Along this path, when the beggars were not trying to get some money out of you, the peddlers were trying to push wierd stuff on you. Here are some of the statements heard during the day.

- Some guy selling camera rolls says
"Bhaiyya, roll khareed lo".

"Nahi chahiye, yaar"

"Jee, roll to aapko lagegi hi"

"Bola na nahi chahiye"

"Dekho, abhi khareed lo, baad mein bhaav badh jayenge".

Now, product pricing is considered volatile during recession, but not this volatile.

- Boy selling gajras

"Bhaiyya, gajra khareed lo"

"Main gajra khareed ke kya karoonga?" a bewildered guy asked.

"Apni maa ko de dena"

"Meri maa to yaha aai nahi, Poona mein hai" he said.

"To kya hua, Agra se giphit (gift) le jaiyega"

Why would anyone want to take a gajra as a gift from Agra?

- The best for the last, a guy selling guavas (is that the same as grapefruit?)

"Bhaiyya, Taaj dekhne jaa rahey ho?"

"Haan", a well controlled reply, though extremely sarcastic comments like 'Nahi nahi, hum to Yanni ke concert ke bachey huey instruments dhoondhney jaa rahey hain' spring to the lip.

"Toh amrood khatey khatey chale jao" the guy said, adroitly shoving two guavas under my nose. What was remarkable was the way he said it. As if it is the most natural thing any tourist in Agra does. As if that is what Shahjehan ate while he walked to the contruction site of the Taj. I know the full humour of his comment may not be conveyed thrugh just typed words. However, it was hilarious, the ease with which he said "Toh amrood khatey khatey chale jao". It was hilarious.

There were other peddlers as well, who kept getting on our nerves. I know what you will say, why not just ignore them. But if you think that just ignoring or not answering to these North Indian peddlers keeps them at bay, you obviously have never been here.
The guys who sell the camera rolls are the funniest ones. I have never seen anyone buy a roll from them. Why would anyone buy such a delicate and expensive item from a roadside peddler? It is almost guaranteed to be bad. But still, they are at it, diligently, exhorting you to buy rolls since "Rolls to jitaney bhi logey kam padengey".

Coming Up- Delhi's peddlers