Even before the British invaded and discovered the wealth that she had possessed, India was termed the “golden bird” by Herodotus, the fathers of history. Our nation was honoured with this name for numerous reasons. Unlike now, when our contribution to the world trade is just 2%, we had a 24.5% share in trade back in the 1500 CE. Moreover, when the rest of the world was practising barter system, India was one of the first countries to develop money-based trade. However, what made India a global powerhouse was her culture, traditions, and ideologies. Each one of us has a voice and we have spoken up, time and again.
Speaking of speaking up draws my attention to another not-thought-about, yet prominent culture exclusive to our country – our pheriwalas (street vendors and hawkers) and their callings. India has a total of 10 million street vendors and most of them pronounce the name of what they’re selling in a very phonetically appealing manner. From a chai walah at the corner of a street to a chips walah in a train, each one of them has a peculiar sound that they make to attract customers. Kaleka, a Delhi-based artist who has a BBC podcast of her own mentions, “a hawker in a densely populated area remains mostly stationery. They blast out their tunes, a restless competition of shouts overriding the cacophony of a deafening street.” These sounds keep varying from region to region. In a train from Bombay to Pune, one would find idli-vada hawkers calling out “Idli vada idliiiii!” in a very high pitched yet pleasing volume. A vegetable seller in some neighbourhood in Chanakyapuri, Delhi would call out “aloo lelo gobiiiii desi gobi lelo aloooo, mirchi dhaniya freeeee!”. In the recent times, kulfi is sold in shops in malls as well but it started of as a desi ice cream sold by kulfi hawkers in neighbourhoods. They’d often have a bell that they’d ring along with screaming out “kulfi aai kulfiiiiii!!”
In a conversation with one such hawker, I was told that the sound they make is done so in such a way that it cuts through the crowd and the chaos so that his voice reaches his customer. However, another vendor revealed that he knows that we like it when he calls out. He just wants to deliver food with a sense of joy and excitement.
This led me to question my idea of the Indian dream. Like the pheriwalahs of our country, we’ve always had and shall continue to have a voice of our own. The voice that brought us independence, the voice that abolished untouchability, the voice that rose against corruption. The voice of the Indian, cutting through the chaos, bringing revolution.