Remembering a Punekar – The Series

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As her name suggests, and those of you who are aware of the trade, she was a vegetable vendor. She would come home almost everyday, balancing her toplya (wicker cases) on her head. To make sure that her head did not bear all the weight of the two toplya, she would rest them atop a coil of cloth.

She wore a nine yard sari, a huge bindi, hair well-oiled and tied back, she would walk in at her fixed hour every morning.

While one case carried essentials like onions, tomatoes, potatoes, ginger, garlic, green chillies, etc., the other had a more exotic fare. Seasonal fruit, seasonal vegetables, leafy greens, everything that was in limited supply and called for swift consumption. Sometimes she would also book orders for the following week, especially for sprouts and seasonal fruit, of course excluding mangoes.


The baskets also held her set of balances — old but firm. It also had a set of miscellaneous weights. For all the minor quantities, there was an array of stray stones, the exact weight of which she knew. So all complicated weights like one sixth of a kilo or even more precise and lesser measures would be weighed against an assortment of iron weights and stones.

Not one to linger after her trade was done, she would hurry off to her next customer like the proverbial busy bee. Sundays being an exception to this busy bee routine.

After having made her trade and secured the money (first in a plastic bag and then in a rolled up cloth bag) at her waist, she would head to the drawing room to catch a glimpse of her divine lord Ram.

As Ramanand Sagar’s famed serial came live on TV and a beatific Ram glowed compassionately at all of us spellbound audience, Malinbai would take her seat on the carpet and absentmindedly proceed to pick the vegetables she had just sold.

She and my grandmother would sit with a tray full of fresh vegetables between them, mechanically picking and shelling the green bounty. This shared labor lasted for an hour for the duration of the serial. As soon as the serial ended, Malinbai would be overcome with a strange mix of guilt at having wasted time and a sudden urge to do instant business. All invitations to tea, snack or even gossip would then be hurriedly turned down and she would be off in a jiffy to the next house.

I do not recollect when Malinbai stopped coming home. Did she not turn up one fine day or did her visits gradually taper off?

Did my mother start buying vegetables from the wholesale market on a weekly basis which made Malinbai’s visits less profitable for both parties?

Did she become too old to balance her ware on her overworked head?

I have no recollection of what and when the visits eventually stopped. Like ancient civilizations that lay to ruin over a period of time, I can only speculate about the cause.

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