You could not walk on the footpaths of Gariahat in those pre-Operation Sunshine days (Operation Sunshine being the controversial drive to clean Kolkata’s footpaths of illegal hawkers that became the first nail in the coffin for the CPM in Kolkata and marked the rise of the Big M) without being assailed by them.
“Sale boudi sale” [not to be translated as Bhabhis for sale but Bhabhi, we have a sale”] they would shout, a never-dying cacophony that seemed to emanate from the bowels of Hell. As you tried negotiating the narrow rope that was left of the sidewalk, you would bump into people standing and bargaining, their sweat mingling with yours, with directed howls of “Ashun dada ashun notun shirt wholesale” [Come Dada come new shirts at “wholesale” prices] aimed at your eardrums making you stop in your tracks, just in time for someone to stomp your right toe.
This tedium would sometimes be broken by comic relief provided by cries of “Boudi boudi blouse niye chole jacchen” [Bhabhi is running off with blouse] as a hook of some garment hanging from the rope strung across the footpath would catch the hair of some lady walking by or by a violent diversion provided by two shopkeepers, angry at being undercut by the other, hurling the most poetic of abuses. And no sooner had you crossed the zone of clothes-salesman would you be set upon by the “greeters” of illegal egg-roll shops that lined the footpaths. They would literally hold you by the arm and with avancular words of empathy (“Boy, you look tired after school, why don’t you have some chicken cho-men with extra sauce?” or “Going to tuition son? Ei Bhola whip up an egg roll double pronto for this gentleman right away”) entreating you to sample their wares while you tried to extricate yourself from their grasp, your senses nevertheless drawn to the chunks of meat of doubtful provenance sizzling like a seductress on the tawa .
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