The Foreign Pedlar
by Nuggehalli Pankaja
(Bangalore, Karnataka, India)
“See the silk? My husband brought it from China”- Neighbor's wife spread the shining material.
Instantly my mind raced back to the heavy bundle being unrolled like a magic carpet and the cry that preceded it- “Cheenaman…….Cheenaman…..Cheenaman…….”
From the lane beyond would be heard that squeaky tone heralding the arrival of the puny man balancing the weighty load on his frail back. How he could do it, was a wonder!
“Chaannaman has come! Chaannaman has come!” The children would chorus banteringly, their cries bringing out the women-folk excitedly. Fascinating robes would be tried on us girls pirouetting vainly like models while elders bargained-bargained-bargained, for he was a tough bargainer-that immensely patient peddler with the most suave smile in the world hovering around his determined lips. And the wares would be disposed off quite profitably!
One another frequent and eagerly awaited hawker of that period was an Afghan come all the way from the rugged region to make money. The strident cry 'Kajur, kaju,apple,’ would resound through all lanes, drawing us children like pied piper. Perhaps we reminded him of his children left behind, for a generous quantity would be laid in our hands before leaving our place. Hence, impatiently would we stand by watching the elders higgle-haggle. But they did it very very carefully, for the hardy people from the hilly place were known for their ferocity matching their straight forwardness..
Once it so happened that the two foreign-peddlers met in our house. Elders were a bit apprehensive since both were poles apart, but strangely enough, they both took to each other, discussed with their smattering English interspersed with a little Kannada in the booming voice of one and the gibberish accent of the other. Each exchanged presents of their wares,and when they left together,what a comical picture they made with the sallow one stooping-shuffling, and the tall striking one striding with the mightiest gait………
‘Where are they now?’ —Often have I wondered even long after leaving that locality for good……..*******