Inside the knapsack - fashioned out of a large cotton cloth whose four ends were knotted together - the bangles would be strung on long jute strings tied up at the ends to make a garland of the bangles. Many such colorful garlands nestled together in the knapsack.
The soles of his feet cracked from walking miles and miles on dry, dusty roads in worn out sandals or in bare feet, his head wrapped in a towel to ward off the heat of the sun, his teeth stained from years of chewing tobacco, the one-man, walking, talking bangle shop was a welcome sight nonetheless, his sing-song call a cause for great excitement especially if you'd been waiting for a delivery.
Women-folk (like my mom-in-law's mother, for example) hardly ever left the house, even to go to the market. They got their vegetables and grains from their farm and nearly everything else was home-delivered, including saris. Each family would have their favorite street hawker, one who knew the family's needs and would make special trips to his suppliers make sure he had what his customers needed. The same for bangles.
Most homes had a porch, screened with mesh or metal bars, where the bangle man and the women-folk would settle down to pore over the bangles, trying them on for size, flipping their wrists back and forth to check out the feel of the bangles, the clinking sounds providing a rhythm to their conversations. It was more than likely that neighbors would gather together on one porch, saving the bangle man from having to pack and unpack his knapsack over and over.
This little interlude was a welcome break for the women from their household chores and a welcome respite for the bangle man, a chance to rest his aching feet and take the load off his shoulders.
I wish I had a photo of one for myself and to show you because these days, the bangle man is a dead breed, especially in cities and the larger towns. Although street hawkers can still be found in the older residential neighborhoods, their wares are limited to vegetables in most cases.
The bangle shops have taken over. Even a small shop is able to carry a much larger variety than a hawker ever could. Street-side shops, such as the ones below, are quite popular in Bangalore.
And then there are ones like Bhavani Bangle Shop, which is a shop of the bone fida variety and is spread across four floors in Jayanagar, one of the busiest commercial areas of Bangalore. In all the years I lived in Bangalore, I dissed that shop. I grew up hating the thought of having to wear bangles or bracelets. Now it's a different story. Every time I've been back in the past few years, I've visited that shop, trying on and buying what a few years ago I thought was junk.
In the picture above, the owner receives boxes of new supplies for his shop.
The rows and rows of bangles and ear rings are mesmerizing. They are all costume jewellery, many of the designs (even those of the 'bindis' or the dots worn on the forehead) inspired by the heavily bejewelled heroines and vamps of the Indian soaps that rule the airwaves at all times of day and night.
Costume jewellery has caught on so well that this shop even offers to put together an entire set (bangles, necklaces, ear rings and other accessories) that will match your sari or other dress you might be planning to wear for a special event. I'd never heard of such a service before!
Most interesting of all, have you noticed something? The sales people are all men. A holdover from the bangle-man days, perhaps?