Just after noon and Bhagat ji would appear up the road, clanging his bicycle bell. Rain, thunder or lightning, Bhagat ji, our local postman, would appear, ever his smiling self, distributing mail to all the lucky recipients. Entire families on the road would lean out from their rooftops (“chhat” in Hindi) awaiting their mail. Bhagat ji was sensitive to their needs and would console the unlucky ones by telling them “Aaj nahin hai, kal aayega zaroor…“! The young boys (and girls) who would be expecting love letters from their dearest ones would already have visited the local post office and claimed their letters from Bhagat ji from near the mail sorters’ window. Ditto for all the retired folks who were expecting money-orders from their sons working in distant lands!
Somewhat around the same time reached the much awaited newspaper-wallah. The arrival of this most welcome vendor would vary depending on the time Steel City Express arrived at Tatanagar from Howrah. You see in those days no newspapers were printed in Jamshedpur. We would rely on the Kolkata (then called Calcutta) editions of “Statesman” and then subsquently “The Telegraph” for our daily news fix. I clearly remember the tinkle of the newspaper person’s bicycle was distinctly different from that of Bhagat ji‘s cycle. And if there ever was any shred of doubt, confirmation came through a gentle thwaack of the rolled newpaper landing onto our chhat. Sometimes the otherwise impeccable throw of the paper-wallah would go awry and the newspaper would descend on the top of the ventilator of the ground floor or worse still, on the terrace above our floor. God forbid if this happened during the monsoon season; it would take us a whole hour untangling the wet newspaper and ironing it into some readable shape!
The icecream guy had this knack of appearing late afternoons when kids were getting back from their schools. Pushing a boxy cart rolling on old scooter wheels, this guy would bang hard on the cart-lid to entice the kids to buy his lollies. Price points varied but were eminently affordable. Three paise for the coloured sweetened bar of ice (the colour would leave a nice, pink, lip-sticky effect for hours after the candy was consumed). The five-paise bar had some milk component and the ten-paise one had, in our opinion, real cream! There were icecreams in cups also, but these were generally unaffordable. We would rationalize that biting the icecream off the stick was a far more enjoyable experience right from the first bite (which left the teeth tingling) till we sucked the juices off the bare stick bereft of any ice. Sometimes even chewing it a bit to facilitate near hundred percent extraction of the juice! The cleaned-up icecream sticks were collected (some off the street as well!) for school where they used to come in handy for the maths teacher to teach us units, tens, hundreds and thousands. The teacher would carry a slotted box to the classroom. A bundle of eight sticks (tied together with a rubberband) placed into the second slot of the box (“tens” place) would assume a value of eighty while the same bundle in the first slot (“units”) would be mere eight in value! You get the picture, right? (So that was a classic case of “aam key aam, guthli key daam”)
A much awaited street visitor would appear on the street, heralding the start of a fresh new evening. This genial person pushed his glass-walled wooden bakery cart up the road (it always amazed me why he pushed it up the road and not rolled the cart down the road). He had this pink rubber horn attached to the cart handle which went “poooon…keee, poooon…keee..”. Depending on his urgency, the horn could rapidly go.. “poonki-poonki-poonki….” like a beathless runner taking quick gasps of breath. The cart itself contained the most pefect bakery items. Two paise for the rusk, three paise for the pink asterisk-shaped biscuit and five paise for the creamy flat one. Kids would rush down clutching coins and take their pick. Those who could not manage the funds would just hang around the cart gaping at the goodies inside. Many of the elderly customers would buy the wax-paper-wrapped loaf of bread which went, I think, for 25 paise. Bread consumption was reserved in our family only for the ill or the convalescing. An erratically “toasted” slice (toasted on a tawa) was soaked in a bowl of milk, a spoon of sugar added and had by the spoonfuls. This is what even the doctors recommended when the mandatory question was popped to him after he scribbled out the prescription. “I do not feel hungry doctor sa’ab, what do you suggest I eat?” And sure enough the recommendation was the bread+milk combo and when once the strength begun returning (taaqat waapas aa jaye), rice and watery daal. Barley water with a twist of lemon was another favourite advice of the doctors.
A little later in the evening appeared the Madrasi vendor duo, one selling jasmine flowers and the other the dosa-wallah. Madrasi, of course was the descriptor of all those from the south of India and speaking in a strange language. An alternate to this was Telangi which I much later discovered was an appelation for the Telugu speaking people (from Telengana?). (It was even more later- only when I begun working- that I discovered there were different regions within Andhra Pradesh: Telengana, Coastal Andhra and Rayalseema!). Anyway, to return to our vendor duo, the first to appear was the flower seller, carrying his basket of malli poo (jasmine flowers). “Malli poo, Malli poo” he would cry out at regular intervals inviting ladies to buy the flowers from him.
Soon after him followed the much awaited dosa-wallah. This guy would push his open cart equipped with an oven (chulha) and a hot dosa-making tawa. His way of announcing his arrival on the street was to bang the spatula with a well-practiced unique beat (clang, clang, clang. clang-clang). A quick “ai dosa-wallah” from the customer and he would stop at the gate while the former ran up to the cart with a plate and a bowl to carry the dosa and the sambhar for a pre-dinner repast. I swear that the Jamshedpur dosas are the best in the world; and I am saying this after having travelled into the deep interiors of the South in my working career. The Jamshedpur dosa is much thinner than what you would find in Chennai or Bangalore. The batter is slightly fermented lending a unique slightly-sour taste. The potato filling is well-seasoned and generous with no lumpy pieces inside. This with a generous helping of the thick spicy sambhar would make any other snack pale in significance. ( It was only after a bit of haggling with the doas wallah that you could get more than his initial serving of sambhar and chutney; in fact the haggle was a routine part of the dosa buying experience!)