Tuesday, January 22, 2008

To hawk, or not to hawk?

“SAVE US FROM THE HAWKING MENACE,” says the poster in bossy capitals, tied to the fence of a nearby park. “DON’T TURN THIS BEAUTIFUL TOWNSHIP INTO UGLY ONE!” its partner cries, four steps further on, grammar the victim of passion.
My first thought is of rogue bands of falconers, wilfully plying their jesses, to the peril of our neighbours’ smaller offspring. For once, this isn’t mere caprice. Mumbai’s skies are constantly patrolled by black kites, drifting on thermals in lazy spirals. From our apartment, we look down on them, quartering the city. (Have not had one land on the windowsill yet, but feel it to be a matter of time. Am wondering what they eat, and if I have any in the fridge. Have not shared this plan with Roland yet, he is not a Nature Lover at heart, only smiling at wildlife when it is on the barbecue.)
My second thought, which I instantly try to unthink, concerns expectoration. Unequivocal “NO SPITTING!” notices elsewhere make this theory plausible, however unwilling I am to consider it. Red splats of betel juice polka-dot the pavements: I hastily avert the gaze, but I’ve seen them. I’m famously not clever with emissions – if, for example, in our nonage, Roland waxes bronchitic, I’m hiring in a rosy-bosomed wench in a nurse’s uniform to look after him, then I’m running away with my gerontologist.
Roland the Pragmatic says, however, he thinks hawking refers to street traders. You’d be hard pressed to stop street trading here. People just seem to prop up one wall of their house as an awning, and anything that’s not nailed down is for sale. If business is slack, the shopkeeper just has a quick snooze, confident that, should a potential customer present himself, the goat tethered to one leg of his cot will serve as a doorbell. And Britain’s called the nation of shopkeepers - did Napoleon never get as far as India?
I’ve yet to brave the delights of the open market, convinced I have “Please feel free to triple your prices” hennaed on my pasty white forehead, but the shops-as-we-know-them - with tills and uniformed doormen, but no goats - retain all of their allure. I attempt to buy a packet of safety pins in D Mart (“Experience the Convenience”) from a charming lady in mercery. I can still only say “Namaste” but feel it hardly meets the case. I already have a small following, on account of aforementioned pasty face, but they look like they’re on my side. After some futile initial skirmishing, I take out my trusty pad, and draw a safety-pin. Inspired. My assistant consults her friend. They laugh and nod, and bring me nail-clippers. I put aside the slight to my artwork, to deal with later, alone. My entourage is now blocking the aisle, but no-one wants to go anywhere, the show’s right here. I take a deep breath, and MIME a safety-pin. If I say so myself, I’m very good. The reception is tumultuous. Five assistants are now clapping with joy, congratulating one another in triumph, they know exactly what I’m after...but no, they’re out of stock. Dilgir. Sorry.