Friday, December 13, 2013

Doorstep Vendor Services

An hour or two on either side of noon, ladies of the houses would be relaxing after their morning chores like cooking or washing.  The men would be gone for work. The sparrows chirped in the shrubs around the house and there was that typical Mysore calm and quiet, only broken by the calls like HaLLay peppa kaali seesoooy...ya.  [ಹಳ್ಳೆ ಪೆಪ್ಪಾ  ಕಾಲಿ  ಸೀ ಸೋ ಯ್ ....ಯ] or Steeel paaatroya. [ಸ್ಟೀ ಲ್  ಪಾತ್ರೋೊ ಯ] Pause, then a repeat call, loud enough to be heard inside even large homes.  It was typical Mysore scenario in the 1960s and 70s.  Such calls from various vendors who roamed the streets selling their wares or services would fill the air.

To list out various vendors from those days was a long-standing plan but when my new friend Kumar recently spelled that unique call in one of his e-mails - we share some nostalgic recollections from the same period - it was a shot in the arm.  So here we go.
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I have tried to spell the calls as they were.  The 'tails' of the calls were usually funny with a bit of drag.
In this post, I list only some "skilled service-vendors" who roamed the streets and went 'door to door', so to say.  Not adding here are the ones who sat in a specified place in shops or pavements and also 'material vendors' who too had their unique calls, but that will be in another post.
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The vendors would either come on foot or a bicycle to go around the streets to earn their livelihood selling their expertise.  They were efficient, quick and reasonable.  What more can we ask for a much needed service at the doorstep?  Even now there are quite a few of them, but many trades have disappeared with the changing needs and way of life.

This post is an attempt to recall some of those vendors and their calls from the past.  All of them came calling in their own special tunes which was nice to give an ear.  I have no photographs or audio recordings from that time but I will try to manage with words to "nostalgiate".
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Let me begin with Hallay peppa kaali seesoooy....ya. It is actually HaLay Paper, Khaali Seesay  - ಹಳೆ  ಪೇಪರ್ ಖಾಲಿ ಸೀಸೆ meaning "old paper, empty bottles".  He would take old newspaper [by weight] or bottles [by count] and pay money to you.  He makes a profit for his services as he is linked with the recyclers.  He usually came on bicycle this service meant luggage and covering many streets.  What was special was his loud, musical call with a final drag at the end, which Kumar spelled so nicely.  He would possess a weighing balance that was customized for 'his profit'!! Cheating with weights was their trademark.  So we rarely called him.

Slowly riding on his bicycle another fellow would call ThigaNayyyy Aushdheeeeya.  [ತಿಗಣೇ ೕ ೕ  ಔಷ್ ಧೀಯ]  Medicine for Bedbugs. This man carried a bag containing his poison potion which he would apply with his spray gun to the cots, beds, pillows and furniture.  All the items had to be kept outside for him to spray. The potion had a terrible smell that spread around and lingered for many hours.  Bedbug was a pesky pest in the olden times in homes, perhaps due to the type of materials and lifestyles. We had to manage with the smell for a couple of days at least.  It used to be a really terrible day when we had to shift in the beds etc. only before dusk as it had to dry.  Hands had to be washed cleanly if we touched the bed or pillows that day.  Bedbugs slowly got eradicated and so was this trade at least in our home. We also used a small 'Flit' hand spray, but it was too small for the volume needed treatment. It was only for urgency and a very popular 'pest control' measure.  That hand sprayer was in almost every house!  That image from ebay.

All images here can be enlarged.


Haaasgay repaireeyoyya.  [ಹಾಸ್ ಗೇ  ರೆಪೇ ರಿ ಯೋೊ ಯ್ಯ]  Mattress repair.  We commonly use the word 'bed' instead of mattress. In those days, only cotton beds were in vogue.  The cotton stuffed in beds would flatten, form lumps, covers got weak and tore, asking attention after years of use.  The bicycle-riding bed-repairman would be available at the doorstep.  He was conspicuous wherever he went with his long harp-like instrument 6 or 7 feet long that was suspended on the handlebar in such a way that it did not inconvenience his riding. I try to illustrate how that wooden 'harp' was.

My wondering about the harp ended many years later. That was when I saw him working in someone's house.  That harp [I will call this harp] was a manual cotton cleaning machine.  We also summoned his service once.  It required a free room because of the dust the work produced.   One end of the harp was tied to a something in such a way that he could sit and swing it left to right, while the rope in that harp was skilfully flicked with his fingers.  The rope was in contact with the old cotton [removed from the bed] as cotton became more voluminous and flew loose all over. Cleaned cotton was filled back and tufting was done with a thick needle.  The bed was all sponginess once again. And I used to jump on it as soon as it was kept aside, ready, as he as collecting his fee.


Kerosene Oil was available freely. We used a wick stove to boil milk etc. So kerosene was an important essential commodity and there used to be a good stored in reserve for emergencies, just in case.  LPG came to us only in the early 80s.  Kerosene was sold from bullock carts going around the streets, almost daily, selling at 26 n.p. [naye paise - new paisa] per litre, which was painted on the barrel. Of course, the rate kept climbing in the 70s. The kerosene cart was fitted with two metal barrels placed horizontally. The seller would sit on top of the front barrel, spanner in one hand and the rope to control the ox. I try to illustrate the scene. 

The rhythmic tapping of the barrel with the spanner to produce the sound was all too familiar to Mysore public. We could hear it from a long distance due to its shrillness.  But he also would call "Seemay eNNayyy" [ಸೀಮೇ ಣ್ಣೇೕ  ] - Kerosene Oil. The spanner was his key to the outlet tap behind the cart.

When he stopped on the road in front the customer's gate to sell, he would use his conical litre-measure with a handle and then funnel the oil into the customer's container, usually an old oil tin can.   Almost always there was an argument about the measure and the foam that formed at the neck.. So even if the measure was a standard one, he found another way to cheat. 

Steeel paaatroya. [ಸ್ಟೀ ಲ್  ಪಾತ್ರೋೊ ಯ ] [Stainless] Steel utensils.  He came on foot, carrying a large bamboo basket on his head, cushioned by a roll of towel. That call was also familiar and an everyday phenomenon. He sold utensils and also bartered for old clothes.  If someone called him, he would come and remove the heavy basket from his head to the floor.  A helping hand was required.  I wondered how he managed to walk around with such a heavy thing up there for a long time. If people called him, it was good for his neck to get some respite.

Since he had the cloth barter system, the ladies thought they made a small profit of a steel utensil for the kitchen by disposing old clothes.  He would fix up a value for the clothes in the form of a certain utensil. That was the starting rate.  He knew full well that the lady would still want a better vessel.  He would pause and mentally calculate something and then offer a slightly better utensil.  This argument went on for sometime until a deal was struck.  If not, he would carry the basket and move on.  Again, a helping hand was needed to lift the basket onto his head by someone as it used to be quite heavy with his ware and the bundle of clothes already bartered. 


Kalai patreya.  [ಕಲಾಯ್   ಪಾತ್ರೇ ೕ ಯ ] In those days, most of the houses had been using brass, copper and bronze utensils for cooking.  'Stainless steel' was slowly making its way into kitchens only to completely change the scenario in the coming decades. So, the inners of those old utensils needed to be coated with tin from time to time to prevent poisoning esp. when sour/salty stuff was kept/cooked. This is an age-old practice. This man would come either on his bicycle or on foot carrying his tools, charcoal and a small air blower.  When someone called him, a fee was agreed upon and he would start working.  First, he chose a place outside the house - footpaths were nice and clean and of mother earth!  A small pit would be dug up for burning charcoal to heat the vessels which were large too.  He made arrangements for his blower, the small pipe connecting the pit bottom for blowing charcoal. I used to watch this blower in action with great curiosity.  He would hold the vessel his long pliers and twisted it around to heat all round.  He applied tin in powder form that melted on coming in contact with the hot vessel and quickly spread the thin tin film around the inner surface as tin melted. Here are some images in someone's blog. [Click]  This one is better for images, but the text is in Hindi.  [Click]  This is very nearly what was done in front of our house.  I am showing a large bronze vessel [above] from our attic. 


Kathree, chaakooo SaaNay Hidisteerammaaav?  [ಕತ್ರೀ, ಚಾಕೂ  ಸಾಣೆ  ಹಿಡಿಸ್ತ್ಹೀರಾಮ್ಮಾವ್ ] This long call was a question to the womenfolk here. [Amma, means womenfolk in this context.]  His expertise was sharpening scissors, knives, sickles etc.  His tool was a customized frame fitted with a bicycle rim, belt-driven, pedal-powered and fitted to a smaller wheel that held the grinding stone.  He carried this machine behind his back.  My favourite thing to watch how sparks flew away from him as he sharpened weapons!  I took this picture [left] near the New Delhi Railway Station. How beautifully they customize their bicycles too! 

He would walk along the streets callingChatthreee repairee. [ಚತ್ರೀ  ರಿ ಪೇರೀ ] Umbrella repair.  He came with a bag of paraphernalia, new spokes, nails, thread, needle, scissors, cloth, spare handles etc.  Of course, those were the days when things were used till it was no longer fully unusable.  Only then something was disposed.  As such, many things were repaired and repaired till its full life was squeezed out!  Money was not squandered, even if one had. If something was bought, they squeezed out the maximum value.  There was no garbage problem because people did not generate it unnecessarily as well!  For so many things the old times are referred as the 'good old days'.

Cobblers also walked around looking for their business while some sat under a tree shade spreading their tools in front of them. Chapplee repaireeee, [ಚಪ್ಪ್ಲೀ  ರಿ ಪೇರೀ ] he would call every now and then looking if someone gave him work.. If someone had any broken strap of a flip-flop or other footwear that needed any repair, he would sit outside the gate, do his job and collect his fee, which was very nominal, before walking away.  When I see the myriad variety of footwear available in the market and when I see the broken footwear thrown/disposed on the spot where it broke makes me think how bad the quality of material we have now, esp. women's.  Before fibre and PVC, only leather and rubber constituted the materials. They were so durable and even repairable! A 'stitch in time' used to extend its service hugely.  Doorstep service was invaluable. I learnt how to repair the chappal by stitching from these fellows and also how they waxed the thread to add strength to it.

Plaasteek Saamaan Repairee..... [ಪ್ಲಾಸ್ಟೀ ಕ್  ಸಾಮಾ ನ್ ರಿ ಪೇರೀ]  Plastic items repair.  This trade was rather short-lived in the late 80s. This man would carry pieces of plastic bucket and such, an iron with a wooden handle - this was the 'heat solder', charcoal and an air pump. Just like the tin coating man, he would prepare the ground for charcoal burning.  They had found out business in this as we used to throw away cracked buckets.  This service came as a boon to extend the life of buckets especially as they were the ones that broke most and buying a new one every now and then was proving a bit costly. He would fix up a fee and start working.  He would neatly seal the crack with his junk plastic piece.  The solder was heated and he melted the edges of the pieces he had placed on the crack with it. This was done on both sides of the container.  Lo, the bucket was usable again!  But the work was not guaranteed as the joints were liable to come off any time for some reason.  Probably the arrival of malls and easier flow of money in middle class families eased the way of life.

The aura surrounding such doorstep services, the arguments by the women about fixing the fee, the thrill of watching work done in front cannot replace modern methods.

2 comments:

ER Ramachandran said...

They were part of street scenes till the 70s and 80s. wonder where have they all gone? Most repairs were done across one's own home at bargain prices which ladies were good at in bargaining!
ERR

Kumar Sharma said...

Lovely Write-up Dinu - on so many of the earlier days' activities in our very streets and in front of homes. I was looking forward to this blog materialising.
I may add that these 'Turks' - if I may call them that - were a little different in their pronunciation as against these days by their New Generation offsprings - many, many more in number...for obvious reasons.
As for the old clothes, he would ask if there was any 'Jari Seeray' - for he could melt and get some gold which was used in weaving them. - this in exchange for the Steel Samaan.
As for the Kalai Paathray, I may add that the Brass vessels, if used without the Tin-plating, for cooking rice (anna), we could see a bluish coating (of the toxic Copper Sulphate or so). Hence these had to be Tin-coated from time to time. Often these chaps would use Lead(Pb) instead of Tin(Sn). The little piece of this metal would melt when contacted with the heated brass vessel, & this would quickly be smeared by a cloth all round and then sprinkle with 'whatever the Chemical Powder'. After this smoke screen, he would quickly dip the vessel in some cold water to finish the job.

On the point of 'Gas Cylinders',we got the Burshane Gas being used by my Maternal Grand Mother in B'lore on condition that we construct a Plaform in the kitchen for the stove. Earlier, the cooking was on the ground using either the Nirbhaya Stove or another one which required pumping for pressurising the fuel.

Thoroughly enjoyed reading these old-time activities, Dinu. Keep up the unique, good work - informative for the youngsters of the future.