Recalling my ‘Choodi Waale Chacha’, the Muslim bangle seller

Reading about assault of a Muslim bangle seller in Madhya Pradesh by goons defended by BJP and the state, my thoughts go back to my own encounters with a Muslim bangle seller

A bangle seller (Representative image)
A bangle seller (Representative image)

Sujata Anandan

The bangle seller.

The Muslim bangle seller. He was young.

But my bangle seller, my Muslim bangle seller, was an old man. I was barely eight and he must have been, as I thought at that age, at least 80. Every month he came home and spread his wares on our verandah – a kind of tray with sections for different kinds of bangles of all sizes which he carried in a bag strung round his neck. He would lay that huge tray down carefully on the verandah and proceeded to select tiny bangles for my younger sister, decorative ones for me and plain ones for my mother.

He chose to push those bangles onto our wrists but none of us, including my father whenever he was at home on such occasions, ever thought he was molesting any of us. If any bangles broke in the process, the loss was his.

My mother would feel awful about that but since he refused to be compensated for the broken bangles, she would always buy an extra box or two from him. Use soap and water to wear them yourself, he would advise. ‘They will slip on easily and prevent breakage. I will be back again with better varieties in a few days’.

Recalling my ‘Choodi Waale Chacha’, the Muslim bangle seller

I missed him on one of his visits as I was out at a friend's place. I cried and cried when I realised that he had come and gone, so my mother sent me off with a maid to his house – he lived in the servants' quarters of an old British bungalow nearby. I still remember the steps cut into the earth, it was not very easy to negotiate for a child with all the vines and tree roots pushing through the soil.

I still vividly remember him sitting on a string cot in front of his quarter, sipping from a bowl of tea. He was highly bemused to see me there and was very touched when the maid told him why she had brought me there. He selected a colourful dozen, in green and red as I still remember, with golden designs on them and pushed them onto my wrists with great emotion.

He would not accept payment for them then from our maid or later from my mother. “Badi baby (my sister was chhoti baby) came to me for them. It is a gift from me to her. I can sustain the loss of a dozen bangles. I will not starve because I gave away a few bangles for free.”

I did not realise how much of an impression this bangle seller had made on me even at that young age – I still recall vividly his beard, his almost bald pate, the chequered lungis he wore, the brown, cracked and scruffed shoes with the toes turned upward (I found one pair like that for myself in Jaipur years later).

In later years these door-to-door bangle sellers disappeared from the big cities and I always missed my bangle seller whenever I bought bangles from the bigger shops – they never put them on you, would never sustain the loss of broken bangles - it was never the same.

There was never a Hindu-Muslim sentiment while buying those bangles from that old man. When I first saw reports of a Muslim bangle seller being stopped by Hindu goons in a town in Madhya Pradesh, I first had an image of him as my own old bangle seller. When I finally saw the video (which I simply could not watch to the end), I thought he could well be the great-grandson of my own bangle seller.

A young Muslim bangle seller being manhandled by a few Hindu men in MP's Indore.
A young Muslim bangle seller being manhandled by a few Hindu men in MP's Indore.

But the stance of the boy was so resigned to his loss and trouble to follow, it shook me up no end. Where has this country come to, I wondered, that an honest bangle seller cannot even conduct his business in peace? I do not like the faces of the goons who indulged in such criminal activities and the fact that no woman came to the aid of that bangle seller who may have served her as well in the past as my own bangle seller did to me, was another factor to feel sorry about - I would have taken a hockey stick to those Hindutva goons.

On top of that story came another one about a Muslim beggar with two children being beaten up and asked to go to Pakistan – why should they, I would like to ask the bigots.

My Muslim bangle seller had been serving both Hindu and Muslim women from the days of the British and when India was partitioned, he consciously chose to continue living in India. He saw the nation through three wars with Pakistan and one with China. My mother recalled that he mourned our defeat by the Chinese and celebrated our victories over Pakistan – he had some free bangles to distribute to all his customers to mark that celebration.

Apart from Dawood Ibrahim and his cohorts who indulged openly in anti-national activities, I want to know how many Muslims who did not migrate to the neighbouring country at Independence have chosen Pakistan over India – and don't tell me about applauding Pakistan during cricket matches because British Indians in the past have similarly rooted for India that had attracted a threat of rivers of blood from British conservative politician Enoch Powell who raised similar questions about the loyalty of British Indians.

Yet the general British populace condemned him for his racism and religious bigotry and the British government passed laws that banned racial discrimination on various grounds, including the applause of Indian cricketers by British Indians.

It is thus the Indian government and the ‘law and order machinery’ that must come down heavily on the bigots but, as we all know, it is the unstated aim of this government machinery to encourage such bigotry and allow the harassment of Muslims. But by now they should realise that Indian Muslims are Indians by choice and if there are some misguided terrorists among them, there are an equal number of terrorists among the Hindutva brigade as well.

Everyone must be able to make an honest living – a Muslim bangle seller as much as a bigoted Hindutva goon. This particular bangle seller lives far away from my city but I would like to invite others like him to sell me some bangles again. I gave up wearing glass bangles some years ago simply because of the heavy clinking sound they would make as I typed or wrote on my computer.

But they do make a musical sound and I would like to give it a try again, simply to sustain the bangle sellers and help them eke out an honest living.

It will be a return for all those free bangles and a tribute to my own Choodi Waale Chacha.

(Views are personal)

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Published: 29 Aug 2021, 4:23 PM