Everything comes at our doorstep including the doormat, and this is long before amazon or the homegrown startups offered convenience as business. Our vendors are as homogenously homegrown as the crop of MBA kids at the end of their two years. The kids have a url along with the Rosser Reeves’s USP (Unique Selling Proposition), our vendors have a voice. Throaty, nasal, long drawn, soprano, abrupt, flashy, anything to attract you from the stubborn walls of your monologue or home. The one who sells the doormat in my lane and many consecutive lanes that he can cover on his bicycle is full flashy. He squeezes his throat until he cannot breathe and then in one gasp mentions everything loaded across the handles and rear racks of his cycle.
Floor broom, wet broom, cobweb broom standard and extendable, mop, duster, doormat.
The hurry to finish the mentions before the breath does lends him a particular sound, something like a USP. I think every vendor has a voice USP along with the regular wares and produce which is not far from what the identical bevy of brands offer us today, with only their advertising being different.
The vendors have their unique vehicles too. The vegetable seller, they are as many as there are kinds of vegetables in a season, they come with a push cart. They are the first ones to start making the rounds, you can safely say as early as the birds and the mothers or the fathers in the kitchen. My favourite uses two preferred words in a drawl.
These two words can take up anything between eight seconds or until you wake up. The word local conjures up swathes of green farms in abandon you can’t help running into, in our case a duckboard cart wheedling the freshness of the farms far, far away.
There’s also a solid marketing RTB (Reasons To Believe) in his produce which only a few vendors have.
During monsoons, the rainy season, his voice claims of the new brinjal. For the people who know about agriculture which is almost everyone in the small towns of India, the brinjal plant is trimmed till the roots after the summer yield with the remnants of its weblike root underground to be irrigated by the season’s rains. In its new lease of life, the plant bears new produce. Now this brinjal has a distinctive flavour. Its window is short so it sells quickly and at a price that the vendor would like for himself. And that one month gives us a reason to believe, RTB, in his faraway farms round the year. Both the client and seller are happy in July end.
Four months down the calendar line in November, the utensil hawkers have a unique offering in their reed baskets and their trademark voices. They come on foot or on bicycles selling woks, cauldrons, pans round the year but during Diwali, the festival of lights that fall around November, the wares gleam differently. The quality is heavy, the polish lambent, the designs supermarket equivalent, the prices, negotiable and the customer service, well right at your doorstep.
If you are tired of your old possessions in the wake of the shiny new, you can get a price for your discards too. Your dated utensils are taken by the same vendors who give you the new ones.
These recyclers have their eyes on your driveway as well. There are vendors on bikes who slow down and shout out for your old automobile tires and batteries. They are a handful as only a few know how to inspect the machine cast offs of their depreciation. Most of them are old drivers turned entrepreneurs who apart from buying your worn outs offer to drive you on a day fee, when needed. The quotes are nominal and because they have been making rounds of your neighborhood since ages, they can be trusted.
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There’s no dearth of waste in homes where capitalism has reached. There are old books, notebooks with unused pages still left in them, ramshackle tools made specifically to last not more than a year. They all are taken from your doorstep in a wheelbarrow to the recycling unit and to the manual ironsmith. Now this wheelbarrow is made of the same discarded metal pieces that you give away for nothing. Every drop of smelted iron in our economy is as precious like the advertised water drop.
But to generate the waste, we have to hoard them first and it is at the same doorstep that we can buy our future discards.
We try to increase the life of our every possession by covering them so there are ready hawkers for plastic washing machine cover, AC cover, table cover etc. If it wasn’t for the handmade callings of the crochet and patch work vendors, it would become difficult to distract the pessimism in our streets.
They sell filigreed and flowered sofa cover, tv-computer cover and even bed cover if you can’t get enough of an artisan in every room. Every cover is as bio degradable as its neighbouring vegetables.
We as a community save pennies so we repair interminably before we replace. Our pressure cookers and gas burners almost last us a generation without the intervention of the company engineer that levy visit charges.
Our investment in repair sounds best in winters and that too without the vendor’s effort in making an innovative sound of his voice. The sunny lanes ring with the twang of the instruments that fluff the cotton of the old quilts to make them warm again. The tool resembles a musical instrument but with a single string. The vendors pluck the string as they walk by and people come out on the road heaping their clumped quilts.
My 2-year old niece runs to it shouting gaana-gaana, which means song. Then she dances to it the way a happy, drunk adult would to surround sound and I wonder which part of me has grown up so askew that it fails to see it as music.
There’s a lot more to repair than just our wares at the doorstep.
Essay/Article commissioned by: TDLM Editorial
Written by: Neha Prakash [Bio – Advertising Writer, Symbiosis Institute of Mass communication, Pune; Walks and Landscapes]
Graphics/Art/Illustration by: TDLM Design Team
‘The vendors come calling’ First Published in The Daily Life Magazine on 30.11.2022