Keliwaale kaka is how he is known to everyone. And he got this name because he sells bananas. I suspect, even his family maybe calling him by the same name. He has been around since I went to school.
He comes pushing his cart into our lane every afternoon. And stands under each house, and in his rough voice, calls out to the children in the house and asks if they wanted to buy bananas. Being a firm follower of etiquette, he only calls out to the boys, shouting out a girl’s name continues to be a total no no for him.
The mothers or aunts or any other ‘decision-making’ member of the female clan from the family then rush out to tell him whether the family needs bananas for the day. Most times we are still feasting on an earlier stock.
Keliwaale kaka has been repeating this sequence at each house. Patiently going from house to house and calling out to each child. And then waiting patiently for an answer.
He never quite boasts of a better stock on a particular day or coaxes you into buying more than what you had initially asked for. He is happy to sell even one if that is what you wanted.
The humble banana, unlike the prestigious mango, is hardly a pièce de résistance. Its raison d’être is to provide instant energy and not tantalise the tastebuds like the seductive mango. Keliwaale kaka is well aware of this intrinsic quality of his ware and his dealings reflect some of the fruit’s qualities.
One misses keliwaale kaka during the famous ‘waari’ phase. A chaste Muslim, he goes off to Pandharpur in search of Vithal — year after year. He returns after ‘waari’ and resumes with his trade as if nothing much has passed in the interim period.
Keliwaale kaka has been calling out my cousin’s name below our house. And waits patiently for someone to answer with an affirmative or otherwise. My cousin is now father to a four year old, but kaka still calls out to him like he were still a child himself.
When I look back at keliwaale kaka, I am reminded of Tagore’s Kabuliwala in some strange ways. Like Kabuliwala, he too wears a beard, and like him, he carries a rough and ready imprint of our bygone childhoods inside of him. Time seems to lose its edge when he calls out my cousin’s name standing under our house, his voice seems to wash away all the years that have crept on unknowingly around us. Years that weigh us down with age.