Kitaaben, Kabaad and Raddiwallah…in Lower Bazaar of Simla in the Sixties
Kabaadis belonged to a strange breed for of us kids growing up in the narrow lanes of Lower Bazaar Simla…long back….in the Sixties! The only street hawker who instead of selling wares would move around the mohallas, across length of breadth of entire Lower Bazaar, procuring “Kabaad” or “Raddi” from our homes.
The one that I particularly remember was a very old man…with wrinkled face. Though old, he was much stout and strong for his age. He would come to our mohalla announcing his arrival in a very peculiar call….
“Kapiian…kitabaan….Raddi, puranian akhbaaraan…”
And many a women would come out of their homes on hearing this clarion call! Who would not want to part with useless stuff occupying much precious space in those small houses in the narrow lanes of Lower Bazaar Simla!
He would sit, leisurely, at some convenient place where he could be seen and heard by many of the housrholds and would start his business. He would bring out a big rusted iron Taraaju… , making a tinkering sound of the metal, from one of the numerous jute sacks that he carried.
Meanwhile we would scour out all those copies from our cupboard which were full and had no further use for us.
While Amma would ask us to hurry up and get all those copies and books out….we would be scanning through all the books and copies and hiding back in some corners some that we didn’t want to part with.
How strange it was that all that heap of copies and books which seemed useless all the time lying buried, in a neglected corner hitherto, would seem so precious when it was time to part with them.
I would catch hold a few pages torn from some copies where I had drawn a few drawings, written a few poems….all would be so precious to me at this moment…. I would hide those pages in my school bag and hurry out carrying the big heap in both my arms.
It would be wonderful scene out in the alley by this time. All the women and children of the entire neighbourhood would be sitting around the kabaadi with their own heap of books, copies and old newspapers. What a treasure it would be for all of us!
We would try to tear apart comic strips from the newspapers but the Kabaadi would scold us as this would render the entire page useless for making paper bags!!
Some daring kids would keep the colourful full-page-spreads of the news papers because of the stories or pictures therein.
Some story books would be a rare find in the heaps of discarded books and copies!! Everyone would be busy….women in getting their “Raddi” weighed properly…children scouring for gems amongst to-be-parted treasure hoves and the poor “Raddiwallah” separating the thick covers from the copies and books before weighing them in his Taraaju!!! And women telling him, repeatedly, “the cover is so thin…why are you separating it?”
I would wonder at the strength of his hands and arms as he would balance the Taraaju so deftly for a to see that he was weighing properly. One of us had to keep track of how many times he had added to the weighed heap of Raddi as many would haggle, later on for the numerical variation of the weighed Raddi!!!
While the elders would be haggling over the wright and the rate…many exchange offers would be taking place amongst the children!! We would be busy getting some gem from our heap to be exchanged from someone’s heap! Such a fun-filled and exciting exercise it would be. He would ask gor old trunks, brass vessels, furniture pieces…which no one would bring out as we all needed them in those small houses,! Who would part with family heirlooms!
We would stop all this when the “Raddiwallah” would be finalizing the amount to be paid to each of the woman beading the transaction. What negotiation it would be….women wanting more and more in lieu of the goods and the Raddiwallah trying his best to pay less and less! A real lesson in negotiation skills!
I remember him telling exasperately, ” The Angez Sshibs would call me to their homes and tell to take all the Kabaad” and would reminscence, ,”they would pay me for taking Kabaad from their homes!,” and then looking disdainfully at all the women surrounding him would say “and you are haggling for a few Annaas!” This would settle the negotiation for all as no one wanted to be less than Angrez log….
The copies, the Raddiwallah purchased, would be used in making small bags or would end up with Bhujju to fold delicacies. The newspapers in making bigger paper bags….the books, if any, would end up in secondhand Book shops to be in circulation a thereafter.. And a few, with hard brown covers embossed with golden print, displayed on Sundays by some Kabaadi, perhaps came from the homes of Angrez Sahibs who left behind many priceless books! It is a real pity that I never could know importance of those books at that time as I was small and buying books from a Kabaadi was looked down upon. Not anymore… I search for books at Nai Sadak in Delhi and College Street in Kolkatta….making up for the loss for not searching for books, the priceless ones lying at the roadside on Sundays, in Lower Bazaar of Simla in the Sixties only for the sake of false pride and shallow thinking! I regret it so much, today!
Much later I came to know that this “Raddiwallah” had a big store cum shop near Gurudwara on the Cart road….I saw him once. And his store cum shop was so full of all that stuff sold in the name of junk by novieu rich people taking up the ace of Angrez sahibs!
I was told that the “Raddiwallah” who hassled for paisa with women in the mohalla was in fact, a very rich man…..having hordes of money!
I wonder he must have got a small rusted trunk, lying in attic of some forelorn house, sold by someone uninterested in opening it up and it must have been full of money gold and jewels, unknown to the seller what he was parting with!!!!