India's Welcoming Wallahs
We drank our coffee on the balcony and soaked up the January sun, a warm reminder that Vancouver was no longer home. A deep note suddenly rose up from the street level. “Ahooooo!” It signalled the arrival of Raj, the neighbourhood vegetable wallah, and the baby blue cart that doubles as a produce aisle on wheels. In the few week’s we’ve spent here in India, Raj’s familiar face has become one of a precious few. Our interactions with him are always brief—we point out vegetables from the colourful arrangement, then Raj weighs them on an old iron scale using beveled weights for countermeasure and tallies the total on his notepad—but the warm smile and gentle head bobble that we part with makes this strange place feel a little more reminiscent of home.
India possesses a magical quality, one that keeps any creeping feelings of homesickness at bay with the million occurrences of any given instant. There are sounds: honking traffic, idling motorbikes, the clash of local tongues—sights: monkeys in the city canopy, stubborn cows marking a fork in the road—and aromas: the mingling of spice, ripe fruit, and the sweat of 1.3 billion humans.
An ounce of curiosity leaves you susceptible in India. Stare at a sign too long and you’re guaranteed to trip on an irregularity in the sidewalk (in Varanasi, such irregularities often take the form of cow turds). Linger on a face and you’ll miss someone else's. But in India, an ounce of hesitation is worse; it is the undoing of those left behind by the train or stuck on the wrong side of the road.
As stimulated as I am by this new Indian environment, little can be said of my effect in return. I turn my head towards each sound and move with the flow of traffic, always reacting and ever absorbing. Garbage lines the road, single-use plastic abounds, and I am helpless in the matter. I shoot a dirty look at the man throwing a wrapper out the car window, though I know my message won’t get through.
The only power I seem to have as an outsider in India is coaxing a smile from the wallah, some of whom are pictured below, and buying a little more than I need. They greet us with warm curiosity, and inspire us with their commitment to a single craft or specialized business. These are the Indian moments we so dearly treasure.
Photography © 2018 Trixie Pacis & Luke Wilson