Gokulum Road Vignettes
A blanket wallah bobs along the uneven road. His cycle is stacked with two bushels of blankets tied with rope, towering beyond his head. Tassled ends splay out of the bundle which is, against all odds, bumping and listing without being tied down to the rack on the back of the cycle. I watch him bounce over monsoon-sized potholes, graceful in the way the whole unit- man, cycle, and blankets teeter on the edge of possibility in motion. Typical. If I wanted to buy a blanket, I would certainly holler him to wait and come down from my rooftop to check his wares. Is the quality matching the price?
A family of four on a Kawasaki, stacked like books end to end, ride along the main road on the way to some Friday night affair. Dad mans the handlebars, Mom is on the back, riding side-saddle. A 6-ish year old is sandwiched between them, and a toddler in Mom’s arms. The string of jasmine in her hair whips behind them, she fixes her saree with one hand, holds the child with the other. The one in the middle peeks from between Mom’s breast and Dad’s flapping shirt back, legs sticking out the side like stray hairs from a braid. Dad is concentrating.
A rick-shaw honks at me and I jump onto the dirt. Screaming school children, at least eight, jumbled in the single arm-chair sized space, hang from the bars, yelling “hello foreigner!” School bags are crowded in piles on a hook on the side of the little yellow vehicle. A crush of white and blue knee socks, black braids, and little scuffed shoes go careening by me in a screaming splendor. Look out. When it comes to school kids, the rick-shaw drivers make no compromise. No amount of money can draw them from their commitment to picking up the masses of children. No obstacle in the path will be tolerated on the bumpy journey home. Including wandering yoga students.
The sun goes down and the oil temperature goes up. If you can fry it, you can serve it. The potato chip wallah sets up road side. The dust that fills my eyes and nose inevitably seasons the fry oil. Hand-sliced thins drop into a wok about 5 feet in diameter, balanced on an oil drum with fire inside. A skimmer twice as big as a dinner plate trolls the wok to draw up dripping wedges for the pile of fresh crisps. Served on a paper-thin plate that drips grease through onto your hand (better yours than mine- I don’t eat the chips dude). Next door the Puri wallah has a four-foot high sculpture of tiny, golden flying saucers arranged in a tube-shaped tower with the condiments at the center. The flatbreads are fried to a circle shape and served chat-style. Four puri are plated, the centers of the flying saucers are smushed, filled with tamarind and yogurt, then the four circles are smothered with raw onions, little fried vermicelli pieces, and chopped cilantro. Another cart down we have the Chinese Fried Rice wallah, green coconuts chopped open and served with a straw.
In the heat of an after school afternoon, the Mahaveera ice cream cart jingles along a neighborhood side street. Salmon colored wafer cones in a long bag sway from the top of the cart. Plastic jars, almost empty, cook contents in the sun. A mash green like candied Christmas cherries, something red as marashcino, some brown-color chunky gravy completely indistinguishable. Dusty plastic buckets, the same variety I have in the bathroom for trash, are lined up on the cart, covered with metal plates. A few sticky spoons strewn about. Oh man.
A lorry with a bed full of plastic chairs, stacked a story high, negotiates the road. Bright blue, red, and white chairs high as the eye can see and a man standing among them to control the stacks. A circular label on a chair-back: “Plastics for a Better World!”