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Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Call Of The Hawkers

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Some of my earliest memories from childhood are waking up to the call from the hawker.

As a child born and brought up in Delhi, I remember the weekdays filled with the shouts of the hawker. What you generally wouldn't go out on a weekday afternoon to buy would come directly to your home, courtesy the hawker.

The shouts each had a ringing quality to it, and they were so distinct in their tone and tune that you could instantly make out what the person was selling, even without actually understanding the words. 

Sadly, on my recent trips to Delhi, I realised that they have been removed from Delhi's streets in the name of security. A city gets its flavour from its streets, from its local variety and speciality. The culture and the life of a city can always be judged best from its streets, not from the glitzy malls that are all just the same, devoid of any soul.

The image above is that of a stainless steel vendor. If you grew up in Delhi, these sights would be pretty normal for you. These women would carry their wares on their heads and roam around the different lanes of Delhi, shouting out in their typical voice 'Ayeeeeee steel waaleeeeeeyyyyyyyyyyyyy.' They would trade old clothes like sarees, trousers, shirts and the like for these utensils.

I remember these women coming into the courtyard of our homes, or sitting outside the gate on the road, while aunties from the neighbourhood would bring out old clothes and try and get the best bargain. Ma rarely ever got anything. But that was because we wore all our clothes till they were in no condition to give away. The best utensils could be got by trading in sarees. These women were forever trying to look for the best sarees they could lay their hands on. That would decide who would get what - a cooking pan, a pressure cooker, a pot, a kadai or maybe a plate or a glass only.


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These neembu-pani bhaiyas were a major part of growing up in Delhi and Delhi's streets. Standing with a cool box that had thanda paani (cool water) in it, they would instantly make some delicious and refreshing thanda neembu-paani (cool lemonade) to quench thirst on a hot Delhi afternoon. Anytime that you ran out of water or forgot to carry one, these vendors were your instant go-to. From neembu paani to chilled bottles of water to sometimes even some cold glasses of jaljeera, they had it all. While they would mostly be stationed at one place for the entire day, some of them even carried their wares around. It is sad that they have now been removed from Delhi's streets in the name of security and who-knows-what..

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This man here is selling moong chaat. If you have lived in Delhi, am sure you recognised it way before you read it. These were some really yummy chaats. The hawkers would come around in their 'redi' (carts) and they usually had  these assortments of boiled moong dal, lemon, onion and tomato, chillies and potato and some secret delicious masala that they would all put together to create this mouth watering chaat. I was always a regular, and just the sound of their voice calling out would make me run out and have a plate!

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This is the traditional aaloo ki tikki that is exclusively available only only only in Delhi. The aaloo tikki waala bhaiya used to visit our compound everyday and I was always a regular...I had this almost every day!!

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Another very known shout in those Delhi afternoons was 'kaaley kaaley faalseyyyyyyyyy.' These were the dark black or blackish purple berries that were served up with some yummy chaat masala. Deliciously heavenly tangy and sour and yumm......

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Remember them? The kabaari waalas from when our homes overflowed with old newspapers? They would roam the roads with shouts of 'kabaadi waaleeyyyyyy' and mums and aunties would call them over, in a quick bid to clean out the clutter. They are still a part of Delhi's roads, and are much needed too..

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If you don't already know what this image is of, then I know you're not a Delhiite ;-) These hawkers are one of the most common sights in Delhi, and one of the yummiest too..... They are the kulche chholey waaley stalls. This is one of my most favourite snacks of Delhi. Even today when I am visiting, I make sure I have at least a plate each day of my stay....And the truth is that I can never have just the one plate, at least two is a minimum.

These were some of the hawkers whose shouts and songs I grew up with, familiar to me in their routine, in their presence. I miss them a lot, and no matter what the government says, no one in Delhi was getting inconvenienced or threatened by them.

Instead of the government displacing them, there should be strict laws against those who park their vehicles on the roads, eating away spaces, causing traffic jams and a major amount of inconvenience, taking away our walking space even. But then again, these owners of mere stalls and wares stand no chance against the mighty owners of branded cars and such, who are taking away public space as their own, yet receiving none of the troubles that these genuine hawkers routinely do.


 - Debolina Raja Gupta

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And like I always believe in and say:
"Heal the world we live in
Save it for our children" - MJ

Debolina Raja Gupta