Door to Door

26 August 2007, Bombay

Chikki Walah
Chikki and rusk walah


“Epel walah, pear walah, sitafel walah!”



Three weeks ago, the fruit walahs would call out: “Epel walah, pear walah, aam walah!” And I would get up off my chair, walk a few feet to the front door, and buy a kilo of aam (mangoes) – the last langda and chausa of the season. Now they call out “Epel walah, pear walah, papaya walah!” Or “Epel walah, pear walah, sitafel walah!” And I get up off my chair, walk a few feet to the front door and buy a kilo of sitafel (custard apple). I’ve also been talked into buying a few “epel” (apples) and pears, and Rhea (my 4-year old neighbor) once asked me to buy a papaya.

Three different fruit vendors ply my lane every day, sometimes twice a day, into the late evening. Two of them carry a large, flat basket on their heads, cushioned by a coiled piece of cloth, and filled with fruit, a scale, and weights. One only sells green bananas (the skin is green, but the bananas are ripe) and doesn’t need a scale – bananas are sold by the piece. The “epel” and pear walahs sometimes sell the small, yellow, finger bananas (kelaa), called elaichi (cardamom) bananas, which are more expensive than the green bananas. (I usually buy them for Rhea, who eats three at a time.) Each of these men call out their wares so that you know exactly what they sell.

Others announce their presence in different ways. The idli (steamed rice and lentil “discs”) walah, who carries a huge metal pot filled with idli and metal containers of chutney and sambar as well as banana leaves (as serving “plates”) on his head, squeezes a Bozo-the-clown type of air horn. The pau (the ubiquitous bread rolls that Mumbaikers eat with everything) walah, who keeps his wares in plastic bags that hang many-deep off the handle bars of his bicycle and comes by in the early evenings, rings his metal bicycle bell. The guy who comes by in the late afternoon and sells a snack of puffed rice and roasted chick peas carried in a ragpickers large, white sack slung over his shoulders, merely grunts.

The knife sharpener doesn’t say anything, or ring his bicycle bell (I don’t think he has one) – he merely pushes his bicycle with the grinding wheel mounted on the frame along the lane. I guess most people here know his schedule and keep a lookout when they need him.

Machlee Walah

 And you can smell the fish ladies, who generally don’t have to advertise their wares – they have willing customers up and down the lane – they just go to a door and ring the bell. In fact, my neighbor, Vandana (Rhea’s mom) usually buys the whole catch. And if there is shrimp, she’ll buy all of one vendor’s and all of a second vendor’s as well.

The vegetable ladies who carry their wares on their heads also walk up to their customers’ doors, while the men pushing their carts, one loaded just with tomatoes and the other with different kinds of vegetables, yell out: “baajeele!”

In fact, not a minute goes by without a vendor walking past your door. Most of what they have to sell escapes me, although the many junk collectors are fairly obvious, pushing their long carts with 3 pieces of scrap metal nailed to the end and sides. In the past, I’ve bought bindis (Rs. 2 or 5, depending on the type vs. Rs. 30 at a street stall in Elco Market) and a broom (Rs. 10). John has bought 5 meters of rope and some ear buds (as they call them here). Don’t need kitchen rags or aluminum pots or ceramic cups and saucers (the guy selling them claps the cup and saucer together to announce his wares) and I don’t like the guy who sells disinfectant – way too aggressive a sell.

Today, a young man pops his head in the door and asks if we have old printer cartridges, or other equipment we’d like to get rid of. We point to Nina’s computer, which has been lying on the floor, gathering dust. He asks for a screwdriver (we happened to have a small one – why doesn’t he carry one? Dang, did he take our screwdriver? Damn him – yes he did!); opens up the CPU, then offers Rs. 200 for the CPU and Rs. 100 for the monitor. Nina says she’ll give it for Rs. 500. He says: Rs. 400, last offer, and makes off with the CPU, monitor, keyboard, and mouse (and screwdriver!). Not bad. Kumar had been meaning to get it repaired and give it to an NGO, but that would have meant spending money on getting it repaired, finding an NGO to take it, then transporting it there. This way, it’s off our hands and we didn’t have to lift a finger. Plus, Rs. 400.

Half an hour later, another young man comes to the door and holds out a bed cover. No, I don’t need a bed cover. Hey, he’s selling a bed cover exactly like the one we have on the futon. Wait, that’s our bed cover! (Actually, Madhu and Meghna’s, but it came with the futon and mattress we’re borrowing from them.) I’d given it to a guy who came to deliver laundry next door two days ago. “How much?” I’d asked. “How long will it take?” The man said he’d be back at 2:30pm and he’d let me know the answers. He never showed up that day. Then, two days later, on a Sunday afternoon, he brings back the laundered bed cover: Rs. 50.


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