It was the summer of June. The mid-morning sun peeped through the leaves creating a kaleidoscopic interplay of light and shade on the street. The ‘coo-coo’ sounds emerged from somewhere complimenting the little yellow leaves that swayed and settled themselves on the tarred ground. Today the street apart from its regular appearance also bore inaudible mumbles and murmurs. After all, it was a vacation at school, the youngsters were basking in and enjoying, and the homemakers slightly laid back and relaxed.
Squatting on the verandah in one of the houses along this street was Mini. This was her grandmother’s house and her mother had taken her there to spend a week during the vacations. Not familiar with the other youngsters of the neighbourhood, nor the next-door members, Mini kept to herself.
The only way she contributed to the serenity of the neighbourhood, is by producing a ‘khichi-khichi' sound while scribbling crayons on her sketchbook. As the sun, the leaves, the birds, the neighbourhood and even Mini’s noise settled into a balanced and composed frequency, a distinct voice broke through.
“Bangeyaayaya! Bangeyaayaya!!” A pause. Followed by “Ehhh! Baiooooaaaayaya !!”
A piercing sound that sliced through the street, passed through within the leaves, found its way through the rays of light and sank itself in the deepest corner of every household. However, this interruption did not disturb any of the existing sounds. Neither the ‘coo-coo’ of the birds nor the mumbles and neither the swaying leaves. Only the ‘khichi-khichi’ sound came to a halt, as Mini was left startled.
She quickly got up on her feet, rested her head on the railing of the verandah and glanced either side. It was kind of a voice she had never heard before. As she kept searching, the voice appeared again,
Mini stood anxious. Even slightly impatient. She knew it was coming from somewhere from the right side. This, coarse shrill and unwavering voice. She leaned left and peered through the leaves that obstructed a clear view of the street.
Mini stood convinced that this was not a sound of a conversation that poured from a household, but more a calling that sprouted from in between the houses. Her eyes now fixated towards the centre of the street.
Mini finally spotted the source. A little distance from where she stood a man appeared with a large bag slung to his back. That made him crouch slightly, but his head continuously turned sideward and upwards glancing to each of the houses. His pace measured. As he walked a few feet closer towards Mini, he called again.
The man looked upwards and spotting Mini in the verandah, halted. He took a closer look at the house and rendered his voice once again. Mini smiled. She thought it was done specifically for her. She was now happy. Instinctively she raised her hand signalling the man to wait, and ran inside to her grandmother and said, “Someone is calling you!” She matched Mini’s pace to the verandah and looking down at the man immediately said in an embarrassed tone, “No, no we don’t have any old objects to give away”.
“Bhangawaaaaa!! Bhangawaaaaraaa!!!” That was what Mini heard this time around.
She now stood amused. Same voice, same tone, but the words now sounded different than when she first heard. Mini laughed. Not at the man, but at herself. She still did not understand in which language and what exactly the man said. More importantly to whom? Never had she seen anyone shouting like this on the street, without instigating a response from people around.
“Bangeyaayaya! Ehh, Bangeyaayaya !!”
This time a little louder, but the note remained the same.
The answer and the immediacy of the event left Mini puzzled. She wondered how her grandmother recognized at once who he was and why he stood there. As her grandmother lovingly patted on her shoulder and went in, Mini leaned against the verandah witnessing the man disappear from her sight. As Mini turned back, the voice echoed again,
“Bhangarwallllaa!! Bhangarwallllaa!!” Mini laughed.
The next day, Mini seated herself again in the verandah, matching her ‘khichi-khichi’ noise to the ‘whoosh-whoosh’ noise of the breeze. But she remained impatient. She kept her eyes on her notebook, but her ears planted on the street. She waited. At times even got up and took a glance across the street. Time passed, but no one arrived. The silence of the streets grew on Mini and she went inside to spend time with her grandmother and mother who were catching up on the quibbles of their relatives. As she settled between the chitter-chatter, sometime later that afternoon a voice appeared,
“With the sound of his cycle bell and usually he comes in the mid-afternoon, just after lunch. Also, he was calling ‘Ice cream, ice cream!” her grandmother clarified.
“But I heard it as I see I see I see!!”, Mini replied imitating the tone, leaving her mother and grandmother break into a burst of loud laughter.
“Icecreaahhh! Icecreahhh!” A more short, abrupt and slightly blunt sound. Followed by a distinct accompanying noise of ‘Tring Tring, Tring-Tring, Tring!’
The voice punctured the conversation. Mini’s mom responds, “They still come here! The same time, isn’t it?” while Mini sprinted towards the verandah and settled herself.
She waited as now the only sound reaching her was the distinct rhythm of ‘Tring Tring, Tring-Tring, Tring!’ The voice was missing.
Only when the man finally appeared peddling his way, seated across a wheel with a large cart in front and raised his voice, that it all made sense to Mini. The man called,
“Icecreaammm! Icecreaammm!!” ‘Tring! Tring!
Mini this time did not raise her hand for she stood surprised. All she could wonder was how could two people have the same set of voice; speak in the same tone, call out in a similar-sounding language, behave in a similar manner in the street, yet be different. Who were they and how come these voices were never heard in the tall apartment that she lived in?
As she returned, her grandmother promptly asked, “You did not want to eat ice cream?” Mini immediately questioned, “How did you know who he was?”
The laughter spiralled into a nostalgic discussion as Mini’s mother reflected, “You remember Ma, how that kulfi guy used to arrive every day in the afternoon ringing his bell? When he arrived, we just knew it was five o clock! He always came when most of us would have returned from school.”
Mini listened carefully, as her grandmother and mother discussed all the voices – the man who came selling carpets, the one who sold vegetables, the one who came to polish shoes and even the one who bought old newspapers mostly on Sundays. Each with a similar yet unique voice, supported by an additional sound depending on the occupation and almost in a schedule. Some daily, some over the weekends, and a few came monthly.
“Nowadays, they are few, and far in-between” concluded her grandmother. To which Mini’s mother promptly replied, “At least they come here. Our housing society is cut off from the street, that I don’t even know if they come there at all. And, the traffic... I don’t even know if they are ever heard in all the honking on the roads!"
Till one day, as they all sat for breakfast, Mini’s grandmother said, “The man who sharpens knives, is coming. Go call him!” Her grandmother acquainted with the livelihood, picked up the faintest noise, that Mini’s ears were not trained to pick up. Mini moved to the verandah and now she heard,
“Dharewaaaaaa, Dharewwwaaaa!” With an extended few words, “Chakkkuuaaahhh, Kaincheyyaaaa, Blaaaeeeddd” followed by ‘sshhhsheeek-sshhhsheeek’ noise.
As the man got busy, a few other neighbours came up to the doorstep and handed out what they intend to sharpen. The man took them all and began to work, as Mini’s grandmother said, “When it is done, just call me, will come down and collect”. The others had a similar proposition to the man.
Mini stood, just to admire how he worked by standing at the doorstep of the house but more than that on how everyone trusted a man who was not even regularly seen every day. In her society, Mini knew that even the regular house help had to pass through guards and security cameras to come to work each day.
Mini smiled, for her grandmother was correct. It was indeed a man, who came with a large wheel on his shoulder, a blue-coloured stool on the other hand and displayed knives and scissors. But she smiled more, for this was the first time, she was able to call these voices of the street and for she had never called a stranger off the street like this before. Mini said, “Wait, Wait”. The man promptly responded. It did not matter who had called, as long he was being called for.
He quickly set up his belongings in front of the door downstairs and waited. Mini looked at him carefully, as if to understand how an entire shop opened in front of her from the shoulder of a man. Mini had visited a shop before, but today a shop came and unfolded at her request.
As she wondered, the man diligently completed his task and as instructed called out to her grandmother and handed the objects to the respective houses and moved ahead with his same call.
Hearing the voice from the street level had a more celebratory tone. Mini was enthralled as the sound reverberated and filled up the street in a harmonious manner. The voice not only bounced off the walls but even struck against closed windows, parked vehicles and even the branches of trees. It seemed to travel along the overhead electricity wires, spiral up to the sky, then fall back on the pavement and with that, it brought a new lease of life and charm to the entire neighbourhood. Everything around suddenly appeared to be performing like an orchestra. Even if there were no one to witness, the solo performer himself mesmerized the locality.
As Mini, stood immersed, the man halted once again to open his shop a few steps ahead. Mini, climbed up the stairs and screeched once again “Dhaarewaalaa” as the man’s voice echoed in the background diminishing slightly in intensity. Mini realised he is on the move again.
However unaware that he is desperately finding his way into another neighbourhood to perform the role of a ‘jukebox’ for an unknown audience till such time he is overshadowed by the hustle and bustle of the city and marginalised to some unknown stationary corner as a ‘vendor’ in a crowded urban street.