There was this lovely Kannada folk song that rushed to my mind last evening. "Bhagyada balegara hogi baa tavarige," and the other favourite "Balegara Chennaiah baagilige bandihenu, olage barallappaneye doreye..."
Now I must tell you about these two. Take song 1. A married woman is asking the bangle seller to go to her 'tavaru', her mother's house and sell bangles to her mother who loves them in green with golden dots. The seller asks her how he is supposed to find the house and the woman describes the route and the house as one that has a tiled roof and a copper door with peacocks playing in the courtyard. You can almost hear how much she misses home in the lyrics.
Song 2 is where the bangle seller is asking permission of the owner of the house to enter, he says he has a message from a distant town. The man's wife has gone to her father's house after a fight and is missing him. The bangle seller asks the man to go bring her back.
I have always believed folk songs to be the greatest repositories of a language, its people and their culture. While the literal meaning can range anywhere from flirtatious to raunchy to innocence to devotion and depict an everyday event, the other meaning is much deeper hidden. They are a mark of a language's growth, the lifestyle of the people. No folk song used to be written and improvisation was almost mandatory. You would hear the same song in multiple versions, though they usually retain loosely the story and the tune. I used to be so fascinated that in college I had my own collection of songs I knew all the lyrics of. I had even contemplated studying folk arts. But journalism happened somewhere along the way.
I was to write here about the bangle seller.
Earlier, the bangle seller, usually, an older man with a huge bundle of bangles heaved on to his shoulder would visit homes regularly. He was one of those men traditional women could talk to without inhibitions. Not only was he an informal messenger of sorts, but he would often be the woman's confidante. The bangles were slipped around paper rolls and tied with strings strewn through the hollow of the rolls. Red and green and oranges and gold and black and those 'gileet bale', the ones with golden dots on them, the slightly more expensive kind. I have forever been fascinated with these people.
They also have this way of holding your palm and very accurately judging the size of bangle you would need. Never once, as far as I have seen, have they gone wrong. As a kid, despite Madikeri being what they call a modern town, we would have a lot of these people coming home. In my grandmom's time, when the joint family had lots of womenfolk, a visit from a bangle seller was a much anticipated event. All the young girls first and then the older women, except the widows, would get probably a dozen glass bangles each. The most popular visits were during the festivals when 'bale todisuvudu' was almost customary. Granny tells me stories of how they would all mill around him, chattering and all excited. She still tells me of those days with a glitter in her eyes.
When I was little, these men did come home often. Though I hardly ever wore glass bangles, I simply had to buy a few dozen every time, for weddings and functions, just in case, in every colour. And I wouldn't let ma bargain over the prices. Much later on too, I would get my maid Shailaja to send them to the house in case she came across them.
I suppose they still roam the streets. We do pay a very hefty price for modernity, don't we? I cannot imagine life with my cell phone and internet and iPod, but maybe, given a choice, I wouldn't mind giving some of it up. Not the cell phone though. Modernity has its many victims, the culture of the people, those traditions and the anonymous people that add a footnote to histories. I miss those guys, miss a thousand other little things, half of which I already have forgotten.
Last evening, I was at Bengaluru Karaga, one of the city's oldest and most popular festivals. Lined up along the very busy road were some bangle sellers. And I just had to buy. The old man's hands, when he measured my wrist, was coarse, and wrinkled. He mumbled over the price a bit, clicked on each bangle to see whether they were broken and slipped them effortlessly over my wrist. The dozen green and red ones, with golden dots on them, fit perfectly. I cannot remove them now without breaking.
I don't think these sellers roam the city streets anymore. They would be too much of an anachronism. My aunt in a village in South Kanara is also not too keen about the glass bangles anymore. She complains that the quality is not what they used to be and the bangles break very easily.
As for me, I miss the Chennaiahs, the messengers of sorts. And I miss the riot of colours and the clink of a dozen of them at every flick of the wrist.
In a different story, Yamunavva, my favourite Devadasi in a little progressing village called Chimmadu, bought me a dozen strong green bangles at Savadatti where their presiding deity Goddess Yellamma resides. The blessings of Devadasis are supposed to be much sought after. They are supposed to cause miracles.
I still have the bangles. And I am still waiting for my miracle.