hen I was small, I would often go to Cuttack in Odisha, my hometown. Now things have changed and nobody seems to have enough time for anything. Whenever I would visit Odisha, my father and I would invariably stroll near the Jagannath temple. The ringing of the temple bells would mingle with all those other sounds like the chatter of tourists, the call of hawkers and the chant of pundits- all this would make a song to my childish mind. The singers of this song were probably the hawkers.
Odisha is famous for sweets and like any other food item they are sold in swanky sweet shops for the affluent and in stands and carts- for the not so well off. My favourite was undoubtedly khaja, a sweet which was sold by hawkers in front of the temple. Though it was found in other places too but I and my father had preference for the temple ones because they were way tastier there.
I remember walking towards a group of hawkers sitting right in front of the temple. They were hardly visible because of the stacks of sweets piled in front of them. My father went to one of them at random and began paying him but the hawker next to him shouted “Sir please wait! Taste mine! Mine are better than his!” This enraged the other one and he yelled “Shut up! Please ignore him!” Soon the two hawkers began squabbling and criticizing each other’s sweets. I was astonished! They were selling the same kind of sweets and just a few minutes ago they had been chatting like old friends.
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My father knew better than to get mixed up in the quarrel and pointing at one of them said tactfully “Sorry but I went to him first. Now I must buy from him.” The face of the other hawker was shadowed in disappointment but he quickly hid it behind a mask of indifference and began calling out to passersby.
My father gave a small portion of the sweet to me because I was constantly tugging at his shirt while he made the payment. I stared at him with a very greedy look. I must have made quite a face at him because I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned around to look at the other hawker. There was a big smile on his face and a happy glow in his eyes. He was holding a huge sweet in his hand. I looked at the sweet and he nodded encouragingly. I took it from his hand smiled back at him. Then my father held my hand and started walking away. I looked back and waved to him, he waved back and kept smiling.
My parents have always told me never to accept things from strangers but not for one moment did I think that this kind man had any bad intention. His warm smile put me at ease and made me feel happy. This man had no luxuries, nothing and yet he gave me, a little girl that he liked, a sweet which showed every bit of affection he had for me. I can never forget that taste, a different taste- The Taste of Kindness.
We need to protect the rights of such individuals- the street vendors who are as human as us and need to be on the streets for their livelihood. Even they can show emotions of – love, kindness, sadness, dejection in the little that they have. Some people describe them as “souls of a market.” Other as a hindrance and yet, others as “encroachers” of public property. Whatever the matter, it is clear that the majority sees them as relics of the past who have no place in the digital era. Often the rights of such people is conveniently forgotten. Kindness can never be bought with money and is more common in the poor than the rich, in the villager than the suave urbanite.
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