The vendor selling fruits on his trolley with little paint left on it was crying and shouting loud, ‘Ber-le lo- Ber’ (*1) in the busy market of Mandai. The sun was scorching down upon him from right above. He felt the heat. He looked up with his eyes half open and half shut. Salty sweat ran down from his scalp, running over his forehead with four creases, still running down across his nose, cheeks bushy with stubble and finally vanished away into his own cream full-sleeved shirt. He, bending down his head with a nod of contempt wiped the sweat-beads on his forehead. He turned his head towards the new complex of Mandai (*2). He saw that the complex was bustling with people, both buyers and sellers. The sight of buyers brought the faintest smile on his lips and the sight of the sellers made that faintest smile fade away.
He scratched his left cheek and spat to his right. Any one who saw him right now would have thought that he was in a world of his own. Suddenly his shoulder was tapped strongly by a short guy in his forties who was wearing dirty shorts and vest.
He said laughing loudly, “Sabu, what on earth are you dreaming about right now. Is it the same old dream of owning a shop inside the new complex of Mandai market?”
Sabu said, “Enough of it Budhiya bhaiyya (*3)., you don’t have to pull my legs all the time.” Budhiya said, “It’s okay sonny, it’s good to dream sometimes”.
The smile being wiped away from his face, Budhiya continued, “but not always!”
Both Sabu and Budhiya stared each other with a sense of belonging. Budhiya continued, “Sabu you must realize that you are just an ordinary vendor selling stuff illegally. If the municipality officials catch you selling things on the streets without a permit right next to the legally permissible shops they would beat you up, though not having the authority to do so, and then fine you more than which you can afford to pay and would finally take away your trolley, your livelihood. . Budhiya continued, “Look Sabu”, lighting a beedi (*4)., , “you have been here for fifteen years and now at the age of 35 you are selling fruits on the road. And that is good in one way, because you don’t have to beg and earn for yourself and your wife and three children. But it’s not that good since you have not achieved your ever cherished dream of owning a shop inside the complex. But just don’t care about it right now son. All you must do and could probably try to do is dream on, because it’s all what we scums can do. But do keep in mind the fact that dreams of souls like us are just soaked-up wooden planks floating on the sea of imagination, which get easily washed away to the shore of reality when tides of hardships rise.”
Sabu stared at Budhiya bhaiyya’s eyes, astonished at his wisdom. Budhiya blew out one big puff of smoke. He sighed. A person shouted from inside the market, Budhiya bhaiyya…….. Again, Budhiya’s name was cried out, but this time the name and title were subsided by the sudden exhaust note of a truck which was trying to get through the narrow and busy lanes of Mandai market.
Budhiya turned and walked back to the new complex and on his way back Budhiya shouted loud without turning back, “Catch you soon Sabu and hopefully not dreaming……”
The truck managed to cut or should one say, bully its way through the dirty, crowded lanes of Mandai market. Sabu now stood alone in the crowded street. He started crying out loud the routine chant ‘Ber-le lo- Ber’, as it slowly dawned upon him that he should now not waste more time on dreams. He cried out loud the chant for prosperity, materialistic not spiritual. He with his unfortunate existence does not have any chance nor right to ever chant spiritually, as he is not materially well-off. His art of living is hard work not dreams. His art of living tastes of dripping sweat not deep breaths. His art of living demands food for his Satan of a mind and brothel of a body as the spiritually oriented upper crust may define. But what the hell, he doesn’t care a darn for the art and as a matter of fact he is only cared about the living.
Customers passed by his trolley. Some customers stopped by, some looked at the fruits with curiosity, some with delight and some with doubt. Each customer was special to Sabu, as each he believed was better of than him and one day he would be better off than them, at least some. Not envying them but just boosting himself with morale, lest he succumbed to the sharp edged dagger of the simple-most agonies of life. Sabu offered his customers a bite of the Ber. Some were lured by the taste and more than that his generosity which other shopkeepers lacked inside the complex.
Sabu said, “Salaam-Saab”(*5). and “Namaste-Behenji” (*6). to his customers with earnest respect and bid goodbye to them again with a Salaam of gratitude.
A feeble breeze blew which whistled across his ears. The breeze had the warmth of the mid-noon sun. But it was efficient and relaxing enough as it carried away with it the sweat beads on Sabu’s face. Sabu was enjoying every bit of it and he felt like dreaming again when suddenly a cry reached his ears, “Bhago-Bhago”(*7)., . Sabu did not need any deliberate calculation in his mind what to do next. He turned his trolley around 90 degrees. The municipality officials were out on a chase for illegal vendors and the cry which he heard was one that of his own fellow vendors. They too were on the run to flee the market premises. Sabu had lived long enough on the Mandai market streets to know well enough what was this whole drill about and he knew how to escape it. He had turned his trolley around and was about to flee when he saw that his usual passage for escape, the narrowest lane to the south-west of the market had come to still with traffic jam.
He immediately turned the trolley 90 degrees again and ran forward, pushing the trolley along with him. He cut right of the small junction ahead of him. He saw his fellow vendors cutting past him to the south-west lane as he cut to the right. He managed to cry out loud to them that the lane out there was jammed. He was panting heavily. He almost crashed into some bicycles coming across him. He didn’t care about the cycle bells nor the motor-bike horns. He could hear himself being sworn. Someone swore at his mother. Some other at his daughter. He returned the favour immediately. But, never looking back. He was all the way screaming, “Baju hut-Baju hut” (*8)., . He passed by the phoolwallahs (*9)., , fruitstalls and a lone book stall. He dissected the street with his trolley with lightning speed like a blunt knife cutting across an infected wound. He could see the junction approaching. He felt sorry for his fellow vendors as they would find it really difficult to cut across the crowded lane, which they all usually took. But he still could feel half relieved that he was about to reach the junction from where after taking right he could manage to escape the officials easily. The junction was nearby but Sabu’s expression gave an idea that it was light-years ahead. He finally came near the junction and was about to turn from the left side of the street to the right lane across the junction, when a car suddenly cut right into the street in which Sabu was. The car did not even blow a horn. Sabu only heard the sound of the engine of the car. As he turned his head to the direction of the car, it rammed into his trolley and him. The car crashed into Sabu, throwing Sabu onto the pooja stall nearby. The trolley was rolled across to the left tearing the trolley apart. Sabu lay dead with blood still oozing from his mouth.
A Ber rolled over across the street, almost trampled by people and almost run over by vehicles but just missing all of them and just fell into the thick drain water without even creating a ripple
(*1) Ber – lo -ber -a vendor’s cry, ber – a succulent fruit
(*2)- Name of a market
(*5)- Respectful address with a salute to a male
(*6)-Respectful address with folding both hands to a female
(*8)- Leave way out
T S Abhilash was born in 1981 , a Graduate in T V Digital Cinematography from Film & Television Institute of India. He currently lives in Kochi.