The little market in front of our house was called Bazaria. There were a hundred or so shops on both the sides of the road. These shops were selling from tobacco to sweets, veggies, grains, spices, to cloths, barber, tea biscuits, to medicines. Besides these shops, there were a hundred or so petty sellers who would display their wares on the roadside, starting in the afternoon till late evening. These sold veggies, fruit, mangoes, toys, chaat, cobbler, ice, fish etc.
Our house happened to be just in the thick of the action, so to say. My grand father always buried a piece of wood in the hot ashes in the urn (Choolha) each time the meal had been prepared. That ensured a steady supply of ambers for the hookah chilams, (clay pipe in the shape of a funnel) for his hookah and for those from some shops. Quite often children from neighbours will come in search of ambers to start the fire at their homes, and will get them. Also our well was as common for the general public as could be a village well. There was free access to the small boys working as odd job hands on some shops to enter the house and help themselves with a bucket of fresh well water, especially in the summer hot days or get a few ambers for the hookah chilams. I was one of them as I was working as a chhota (boy servant for odd jobs) in a tobacco shop. I used to wait the arrival of some thirsty buyer who would wish he would do with a little drink and I would be ordered to fetch some water fresh from the well. Or be sent for a few ambers. I would arrive home, a mere 5 minutes walk, and more often than not would be given a little task here and there by the people at home also. As a result, often I would arrive back at the shop with the little bucket of water too late as the main drinker had drifted away. The water would be handy for others any way for it was hot season. There was a bhishtee, (water supplier) who would fill his goat skin with ten or so buckets of water from our well and supply to shops for an anna (1/16th of a Rupee) a skin to sprinkle the water in front of their shops for the earth to cool, dust to settle, especially in the summer evenings. Before entering my house, the bhistee would make a noise which will send the women in our house running to the safety of the rooms for purdah, he will enter the house and with eyes on the ground, head straight to the well. (houses generally had rooms with front veranda and an open court yard called aangan, all surrounded by walls or other houses. Ours had a large open aangan with two large trees for shade) He will make 5-10 trips in an evening and we never so much as show a remotest of remorse. He paid us by pulling the water and filling the few buckets or gharas (earthen pots) we had arranged around the well for our own consumption.
Hardly a day passed when some sort of roaming sales man, magician, or show man would not come and create a stir in the market. All they needed was a small clearing, which was right there on the opposite side of the road facing our house. They also needed a bunch of 30-50 men/children to linger by and listen to them for an hour or so., which were also readily available from the throngs of people always roaming about. Monkeys, a bear, lemurs, snakes and children were used to display tricks and at the end of the show the gathering was given a pathetic appeal to donate some thing towards the upkeep of these poor creatures. The creatures were trained to display their bellies, even beat at it with their hands to stress the point and to win the sympathy of the audience. Other times some one would sell oil extracted from lizards for strengthening of the erection, or surma (grey powder) to be used in the eyes for better sight. They used to play dugdugi, sometimes coupled with a flute, to attract the crowed. Often he will shake his dugdugi with one hand and play flute with the other, all at the same time.
(dugdugi: a small hour glass shaped drum with skin stretched on both ends, held in a hand and given violent and swift jerks from the wrist. This will send the two strings attached at the centre on either side of the drum flying and hit the stretched skins with their ends. The ends of these strings having been made hard will make a noise like a crack of a whip. A quick series of such cracking noises will be heard around for 300 yards.
You have to listen to appreciate. I have not seen this dugdugi any where else in the world)
The magicians would show a host of tricks including disappearance of some one’s genitals. He would invite a person at random and say a few words and then ask him to feel with his hand his genitals. The man, astonished and perplexed with finding a void where there used to be a set of genitals, would start pleading, then abusing at the top of his voice to restore his ‘belongings’. Well, after much fuss and giggling of the crowed and after receiving impossible and strange promises, he does say the magic words that would bring back what was lost. Another time he will ask a man to hold between his two fingers the ear lob of one of his ears. Then the person will find that he is locked, he cannot undo the grip of his ear try as he will. Again pleading followed by abuses and then some promises (to touch the nose to the ground for example) will eventually free his ear from the grip of his own hand. Another thing some magicians would show was swallowing and then regurgitating a host of material, including a bunch of needles, a metal ball, a yard of cloth, 20 or so marbles. He would swallow these one by one and then reproduce them back in succession. All the time his blah blah would continue accompanied by dugdugi and flute which he was expert to play with one hand. I now think that every time he was to swallow or reproduce something from his mouth, he will, just for a fraction of a second, make every one present look at something other than him. That will be enough for him to do the trick. He will say for example something about ‘that bird on that tree’ or ‘the shoe of that man was stolen from…’ He had all the time a bag in his feet, as he was sitting on his heels, and his quick hands are always busy fiddling with it.
Holi and Diwali were two very colourful and vibrant festivals. During the night before Holi, Hindus liked to burn a huge bone fire and would not hesitate to throw in the flames any or every thing made of wood no matter who is the owner.
Many shopkeepers had a wooden structure, something like a big table, in front of the shop on which they displayed their wares. This table will remain outside the shop when the shop doors are closed. Many such tables used to disappear during this night. Besides these, peoples’ charpoys if not in use, lose window frames from the rooms etc were not safe. Many shopkeepers would spend the night sleeping in front of the shop on their tables and some would lock them. Often they will find in the morning that the lock is protecting a corner of the table, whereas most of it has been sawed off and has disappeared.
The following day till noon people would throw coloured water at each other using specially made hand pumps called ‘pichkari’. After the noon time this activity would stop and people will wear their best clothes and would go visiting friends and relatives.
Diwali was a festival that would bring extra life to Bazaria. The available road side spaces were claimed by people selling things unique to Diwali festival. It included great display of new and gleaming kitchen utensils, mountains of puffed rice, palm size sugar images of gods, fire crackers, posters of gods and goddesses, sweet meats and clay toys and dias (clay lamps using oil and a wick). Hindus believe that on the occasion of Diwali it is most auspicious to buy new kitchen wares and therefore every one would make sure that they do. Very poor families will just settle with a simple and small stainless steel katori (cup). Gambling during Diwali is an integral part of the procedures and for days before, on The Night and after it, people would do this ‘religious’ rite by gambling away monies according to their purse, some times even beyond. We children used to have a season of playing with ‘money’ made of clay, by potters, called ‘dulayes’. The Night of diwali was very beautiful as every and each Hindu would light his home, especially the top of the walls or of the roofs with a series of dias that burn oil through a cotton wick. The darkness of the night would enhance the effect of these lighted dias for hours. The sale of every shopkeeper would shoot up during this festive season. This was particularly true with the tobacco shops as I could see it myself year after year.
Almost every house kept a goat or two and dozens of chicken, to supplement food and income. We had them too. There was always a shepherd who would collect every morning these goats from houses and take them to the countryside for grazing. In the evening goats would find their own home, his job was to bring the herd to the heart of the town. Every winter we used to get in our locality herds comprising of 100 or so goats called ganga pari. These goats were different from our own in that they had impossibly long ears and were as large as a small donkey. They also ate neem bitter leaves. The owner would go to a house with a neem tree. Almost each house used to have one. He will negotiate that he will give 2-5 litres of goat milk plus 10-15 rupees in return for him to trim the neem and his goats feed on the bitter leaves. Now it was a win win situation, for the house owner will have his neem trimmed for sunlight to be had during winter cold days and money and milk besides. Our own goats could not eat neem, they needed proper fodder. Come March, the leaves on neem will grow again and the tree will then serve as provider of shade during hot summer days.
During winter there was a stream of trucks howling sugar canes from the fields to the sugar mill. They would pass from bazaria and due to the pot holes and the crowd, they were forced to move very slowly. Children would run behind a truck and would pull sugar canes from the back bundles. Bullock carts transporting sugar canes were extremely slow but there was always a guard sitting on top of the load brandishing a sugar cane. He would beat away any adventurous boy trying to pull canes. But boys would attack on all sides and he could not defend all the sides at the same time.
Occasionally some one would have his house repaired. The labourers and the masons would shout three times, “purdah kar lo” meaning go to purdah, before climbing to the roof tops. The women were given 15 min to complete what they were doing out in the open in their court yards (aangan) in those houses which could be within view of these people once they started work. The masons earned three times (1 ½ rupee) of what the labourers earned (8 annas) but the labourers also received a lump of gur (raw brown sugar), a bundle of bidi (leaf cigarettes), and a handful of roasted gram (chane).This they will consume at mid day lunch break while the masons will eat the food they bring from home. The sight of a labourer climbing rickety ladder with a load on his head of some ten bricks or that of a pan of mud (gara) was a sad one for me. The sun in the summer was all the time pounding. The masons had a turban to keep the sun from their heads, but the labourers either were not allowed or could not afford a turban.
There is an Ordnance Clothing factory in Shahjahan pur. In those days there were scores of small time hakeems/ vaids/ doctors who would open their outfits as early as 6 in the morning, not for soliciting patients, but primarily for selling for 2 ½ rupee each sick certificates to those workers of this factory who wanted a day off. Sick or not they would get one and there was no compulsion of buying any medicine.
There were two butcher shops selling beef (buffalo meat) just next to my house. (Cows slaughter was banned due to Hindus’ sentiments about these gentle creatures.) All day long we could hear the sound of heavy choppers. The ‘chhota’ worker would raise the chopper high above his head only to land it with force on the meat placed before him on the upper flat face of a wooden log, some two feet high and 1 ½ feet in diameter. He repeats this action a hundred times to make mince meat. Even when one of these shops introduced electric mince maker, many people used to prefer the hand made mince. There was always an eagle (cheel) or two waiting on the roofs or on electric pole for a careless meat buyer who will emerge from a shop with ½ a kilo of meat wrapped in paper. It would sweep down and catch him unawares, attack his meat and snatch a piece or two, throwing away the rest on the road scattered here and there. Often people will emerge with their meat they have bought safely tucked in a bag, or the hands carrying meat hidden under their shirt, bowing over a little, while the head is up searching for the eagles here and there. Such people with this type of careful emergence from the shop made a very comic sight indeed.
Tea shops served tea in glasses, an anna a glass (3/4 full).The tea was always sweet and warm. Many shopkeepers had given a standing order of a glass of tea every tow hours or so. The chota from the tea stall would arrive with a wire basket that can hold five tea glasses to serve five people at one go. The glasses were hanging in a wire circlular hole held together in wired mesh. I have not seen this type of wire mesh basket tea carrier any where else in the world.
Every now and then a tonga (Horse driven cart) will pass through the bazaar announcing the opening of a new film in a certain cinema hall, or selling some medicine. They used loud speakers and played, between announcements, film songs on gramophone.
The film Mughl e Aazam was released in 1961 and the cinema hall showing it decided to use an elephant, instead of a tonga, for the publicity. The elephant with large posters on his back is following in a procession a brass band of twenty musicians in uniform, the likes of which were used for marriage processions; only in marriage procession the elephant carried a garlanded dulha (Bride groom). Now this elephant was sick and after roaming the city he decided to collapse right in front of our house, on the opposite side of the road. The municipality people decided to hire kunjurs (lowest of low casts) who used axes to cut the carcase into manageable pieces that would be transported on pick ups to the country side where they would be buried along with sacks of salt and lime. We children watched the proceedings from an upper story window.
Now how many people have the unique experience of witnessing a huge dead elephant being dismembered thus? (To be continued).
Incidentally, I also have the experience of meeting, talking and working with people who have eaten as a routine not only elephant meat, but also humans (That will be later)