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Sunil Khushalani


I remember
the bartanwali
who carried a big basket
 of steel utensils on her head
wandering from street to street
announcing her arrival
On hearing her voice
 housewives would brighten up
They had been waiting for days
they had set aside
 a set of clothes for her
some old, some defective
some slightly damaged
but all made up
 prepared for the encounter
"New utensils in exchange for old clothes"
those interested in the barter
 would invite her
She would come and position herself
 outside the doorstep
After she had laid down her basket
(which to this point
 lay perfectly balanced
 atop a small cushion on her head)
and had a cool glass of water
 to quench her thirst
(in the meantime
neighbours would gather)
The women brought out the clothes
for the lady to examine
At the same time
 the women would praise the clothes
(which made one wonder
 that if the clothes were so good
how come they were being given away?)
The lady would search them
 inch by inch
not getting carried away
 by the distractions or the talk
There were no fixed rules to this game
it was business, psychology
 politics, entertainment
all rolled into one interaction
After all the clothes had been seen
the lady would ask
 if there were some more clothes to show
which the women would deny
She would then
 make her mental calculations
and show what utensils she could offer
This would usually not only shock
 but also upset the women
and then there would be
 one more round of discussion
of economics, of inflation
 and the golden days of the past
Then the women would say
 what they wanted
in order to complete
 the set of utensils at home
This in turn would make the lady
 ask for more clothes
she would ask for
 'sarees with zaree, embroidered clothes,
jeans with foreign labels
silk nightgowns, fine chunnis ...’
Now this would put the women
 in deep thought
followed by a soft discussion
 amongst themselves, in whispers
If they needed some utensil badly
they would go in
 saying that they would check
 if they had any more
Some better clothes would be brought out
which were usually set aside
 as if they were trump cards
By now the discussion had settled down
to the lady's children, her husband
 the last trip to her village
After the exchange had finally taken place
the lady would happily go to the market
 to sell off the clothes
with requests for next time in her mind
the neighbors would go home and gossip
and the jubilant women
 would ardently wait for the men
to show them the bargains of the day
Not always
 would the exchange be successful
Many a times it would reach an impasse
resulting in resentments for the day
and hopes for the coming afternoons

-{ana sayfa}{marmara}{trambolin}-