Come summer time and our childhood days were filled with people who we now realised have stopped frequenting our old areas of Mumbai.
Living in Girgaum has its own advantages besides being centrally located. We would get at our door step services ranging from entertainment, vessels, repairs name it!
Among the utility services, a particular from Gujarat would come with sparkling new steel vessels and porcelain crockery! They’d call to homes “yeh bhaandi (vessels) ye.” The neighbours would call them to their apartments and haggle till the last one rupee. I’d simply gaze into their shiny steel vessels to see my reflection!
The vessels were given in exchange of old clothes. Definitely not torn ones but those which were fairly old and decent. Sometimes I must admit that these sellers would come up with some unique ceramic crockery, which my mother would want to buy and my sister and I would go searching for some clothes which we wanted discarded!
Come Sundays and we all kids would plan our pocket money and play times around the timing of the bhelwalla who would serve us delicious sev puri and bhel. This particular bhaiyaji would call us by our names-how he knew I do not know. But the problem was my father. Invariably we’d have a 15 minute over drawn debate on why I wanted to eat that chat pata stuff. Only because he strongly believed that the bhelwalla perspired a lot and that is why the bhel he served was so tasty! Well this would be a weekly saga. But at the end I don’t know how we children always won. Don’t know when he stopped coming. The same would be reaction to the man who brought corn stuff, chan chor garam.
Among the first communities to disappear were the tribal women who came to repair the grinding stones in our old neighbourhoods. They would shout out “yeh taaki,” They sure were hot and dusky ladies, who wore nine-yard saris without cholis! As a curious kid I was fascinated wanting to strike a conversation with these women whom I thought were bold and sexy. This community specialised in the talent to level the grinding stones which needed to be cut specifically. It has been over two decades that I have stopped hearing their calls.
Summer time also meant time for us kids to share our space for playing with the ladies who dried and pound the papads and masalas. For days they would spread old saris, usually they were old nine-yard saris. We had to evade these drying ingredients, which included the deadly red chillies. We brats of course would throw the ball on the chillies and papads and stealthily flick some drying bits to chew on the raw ingredients. They’d warn us that time for their revenge was just round the corner as they’d pound the chillies and other ingredients threatening to throw it in our faces.
Among the real sharp memory reminders is the knife sharpener who would bring the cycled metal sharpener to the building. The process evokes loud and sharp noises which come close to the tile cutters in modern buildings today.
Among the last but my favourites are the dombari community of acrobats. The whole family would come and entertain the neighbourhood. The children would run through a circle of fire and juggle with a string and stick. The parents of these children would perform tougher tricks like walking on the rope, balancing a torch of fire on their forehead and jumping through a frame of knives. As I kid I craved to perform some of these acrobatic tricks, the rope was my ultimate fascination. The closest I came to was doing cartwheels with ease!
Bombay became Mumbai, but the old world charm has been lost in the name game.