The Harion Bazaar
Mar 18, 2018-On Saturdays, the otherwise quiet Harion bazaar springs into action. Packed into heavy trucks and congested buses, so many people from villages far and wide swarm in from all directions, typically in a frantic search for the right quality of ration for their families. There are other purposes too, of course—boys take girls out for panipuri dates, women find the perfect
bangles to share with their sister-in-laws and maybe most importantly, stubborn children finally get a chance to satisfy their hunger for cotton candy.But not every child has such privilege. There is a group of children (mainly boys) aged seven to ten, who run along the lanes trying to sell polyethene bags. With each bag they sell for two rupees, they make a cut of twenty paisa. And it is difficult to sell the bags, considering the fact that almost everyone brings a nylon bag from home. But in the off chance that they forget it, they just need to look around and shout “Jholay!”
In no time, a boy clothed in torn dusty rugs appears. Perhaps, that’s why they’re called Jholay. Or even because they, themselves cry out “Jholay” at the top of their voice as they glide through the bazaar. What a sound they make!
The bazaar is filled with other noises, of course. One side of the bazaar hosts the village development office whose machines are constantly bleating and blaring. The side opposite to that has a humongous building. On one of the remaining sides is a group of little food stalls cracking with the sound of deep frying chowmein, while on the other is a fish market—no doubt the noisiest of the lot. The vendors there shout in the most annoying ways, all in an effort to attract customers—or at least, catch their attention. It is a miracle that people still venture there! From the fish market to the food stalls runs a series of parallel lanes, and a few perpendicular lanes intersect them at specific places. Between these lanes lie numerous stalls dedicated to a variety of products ranging from vegetables to earrings.
Buying dried fruits at one of these stalls was the Mukhia Buwa (Head) of the village. He had a gigantic presence in the bazaar. The otherwise horribly congested lane were cleared for him out of deference. It was the respect people had for Buwa that kept the lanes he walked almost empty. After all, it was rare for him to visit bazaars. The shops he would visit were few in number but very dignified. It should be noted that he didn’t visit these shops because they were dignified, for his visits were what made these shops dignified in the first place. There were no bargains. Buwa never asked what an individual good cost, he simply paid what was asked in total. If he thought what was asked was too much, he would simply never venture into that stall again.
So, when the shopkeeper stated a price of 260 rupees for a mixture of dried fruits, Buwa started weighing the chances of ever visiting the shop again. Seeing his grandpa’s stern face, Bablu, who was digging deep into a tuft of cotton candy till now, sprung into action.
“What happened Buwa?”
Startled, the old sunken eyes looked down to the chubby little grandson and replied.
“Nothing Bablu, nothing”
Stuffing a giant portion of the cotton candy in his mouth, Bablu spoke in a muffled tone.
“So, what are we buying next Buwa?”
The old man raced his eyes across the bazaar and replied.
“Your favourite vegetable—mushroom!”
“But my favourite vegetable is meat.” This prompting a smile from the old man. “Then, let’s buy your second most favourite vegetable!”
The mushroom shop was in the shadiest part of the bazaar, under a poplar tree in front of the village development building. The grandfather-grandson duo had to fare through half the bazaar to reach the shop and when they finally reached there they were aghast—sitting on a stool, in front of the shop was the Mukhia of the neighboring village!
The two mukhias shared a strong bond of friendship. So, it was no surprise that the two village heads should sit in front of the mushroom shop and start conversing. Bablu was bribed with a couple of cotton candies to stand still while the two venerable men exchanged words. And the shopkeeper, he could not be happier. How many customers would turn out for the next bazaar when the word would spread that the two mukhias had bought mushrooms from his shop.
The two village heads were so caught up in their conversation that they forgot about the chubby little devious child devouring cotton candy. With all the power vested on him as the grandson of the mukhia, he started wandering around the bazaar stopping at certain vegetable stalls and asking the shopkeepers if they had cotton candy. The shopkeepers were a bit annoyed by his snobbish tone, but they were scared and did not dare anger the mukhia’s grandson. So they would answer:
“No babu, we don’t have cotton candy.”
Bablu would generally shoot a reply.
“Next time, keep some cotton candy”
It was while wandering that Bablu caught a glimpse of his grandma on the other side of the bazaar, at the fish market. It had been almost a year since he had last seen her. Whenever he had asked his parents about her whereabouts, they would tell him that she was ill and henceforth hospitalised in Kathmandu. And yet here she was, all of a sudden, sitting beside a fish shop, smiling sweetly at him. In that fleeting moment she opened her inviting arms to her grandson and Bablu couldn’t resist embracing her. He ran towards his grandma as fast as he could.
“Aama,” he cried out.
He ran past hordes of people and the people he bumped into would glare at him angrily. But he didn’t care. He cared about nothing but his grandma in that moment. So, it was a shock to him that he didn’t find his Aama when he reached the fish market. He searched frantically crying out “Aama.”
By now, the mukhias had shelved their discussion and Mukhia Buwa was finally aware of his missing grandson. He asked the shopkeeper if he had seen the chubby child.
The shopkeeper was closely following Bablu’s movements all along and he knew where exactly where the boy was. In a bid to impress the Mukhia, the shopkeeper pretended to meticulously search the bazaar and said:
“There, Mukhia Bua, there.” He ended his disingenuous search by pointing to the fish market
The Mukhia started sprinting when he saw Bablu in dismay. When he reached close enough to hear the boy what shocked him was the word that Bablu was shouting. He caught the child by his wrist and told him, “Aama isn’t here Bablu.”
By now, the entire bazaar had stopped and was looking at the Mukhia.
“But I just saw her”
“No, Bablu it can’t be”
“But I just saw her Buwa. She is here.”
The Mukhia was dumbstruck.
“SHE IS HERE.” He broke from the grasp of his grandpa and cried out, “AAMA WHERE ARE YOU?”
The Mukhia suddenly jumped into an angry state and slapped the child on his plump cheek. The entire bazaar gasped. He then, yelled at the child, “SHE CAN’T BE HERE! SHE IS DEAD!”
A certain eerie silence enveloped the bazaar. No one dared to speak a word. The mukhia started sobbing and so did Bablu. All the while, no one dared to speak a word. Even the noisiest of the fish mongers were silent. All the shops were silent. All the shoppers were silent. The machines of the village development office were silent too. Buwa looked around. He had no clue as to how he was to escape the situation. No one spoke. How was he to break the silence? He hoped someone would. He looked at the other mukhia, hoping that he would help him out, but he did not. Buwa was deep in the trench of desperation of how to get out of this situation that pulled on his soul like quicksand. The entire village was looking at him when suddenly a shrill sound broke the silence.
A jholay clueless of the situation shouted out his metonym.
Meanwhile, the village head exhaled a deep sigh, holding his tiny grandson tightly to his chest.
Published: 18-03-2018 09:09