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Silence of the Hawkers – Kolkata’s Chaitra Sale is now just a memory!

14 April, 2020 22:53:06
Silence of the Hawkers – Kolkata’s Chaitra Sale is now just a memory!

They were the Walking Streets of Kolkata, where sounds and shouts reigned, where vibrant and lazy walkers met, where local businesses flourished, money made, dreams sown and future scripted. Be it Gariahat or Haatibagan, the Chaitra Sale markets of Kolkata had always been as vibrant as Christmas markets of the West. Despite their mayhem with endless sea of humanity all round the day and particularly before Poila Baisakh jostling for space, these footpath stalls and their richer showroom partners had always given Kolkata the sign of life moving on. Any loss, any need, were made on these streets and since our childhood days the shouts of hawkers crying ‘Sale, Sale,’ ‘Two for one, three for two,’ sounded as charming as Harry Belafonte’s Caribbean market songs.

But 2020 is different. Since March beginning as Corona scare hit Kolkata, the city mayor was holding talks with the Hawker’s unions as to how to keep the Chaitra Sale market open with maximum measures including masks and sanitisers. For all the players knew, if the markets are closed down before the Bengali New Year, it will come as a huge blow to hundreds of hawkers who earn an extra buck during Chaitra Sale and even for buyers who get to buy their clothes and bedsheets or even knick-knacks at a favourable discount only for this month. But all hell broke loose, the city and the country went for an unprecedented Lockdown, for life was more precious than money --- that’s what Calcuttans realized and so did the world. 

Still, memories stir, the silence of these deserted streets in both South and North Kolkata that once had been so vibrant with colours and sounds, come as a stupendous blow to our psyche. Could we ever imagine Gariahat or Haatibagan crossing on a weekday and that too on a month-long Poila Baisakh sale time to be just like that parched desert where none ventures? Flood of memories rush back --- my first plastic elephant shaped balloon bought by my mom to pacify a 5-year-old me, from that Balloonwala who always stood beside that lamp-post at the Gariahat crossing, to choosing my wedding trousseau from Adi Dhakeshwari Bastralaya with my husband and the salesman refusing to show us any costly Benarasi as he felt we were too young and could not afford anything costly. The big consignment of children’s garments of various shapes and sizes bought from the Haatibagan Sale market to be distributed on Poila Baisakh to street children. Or even that beautiful vase from the Gariahat street gifted to my first ever boyfriend that he still keeps on our table. The constant bargaining --- well that too was fun, when finally you get a feel of winning, the shopkeeper said Rs 250, and you gave only Rs 100 --- even that sense of triumph and accomplishment suddenly vanished.

Not just from my life, but from those of the stall owners and hawkers, whose life and livelihood depended on this Chaitra Sale. How a disease kills silently, may be the silence of Gariahat and Haatibagan will forever be witness to that human crisis, just like once upon a time it was witness to brisk sale and profits. For that’s life, black or white, shades of grey seem to be a distant dream today.   

Story Tag:
  • Poila Baisakh 2020

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