Through his eyes – 16

Quilt makers announced their arrival by making a special sound, which could almost qualify as a musical sound, by pulling the string of an implement which they carried for cotton fluffing. The implement had a long stick, made of cane, about three-and-a-half to four feet long, having a thickness enough to be gripped tightly when it was used. A quadrilateral shaped flat wooden structure was fitted at one end of the stick. At the other end was fitted a semi-circular shaped wooden structure giving it a look like the mirror image of the sign of interrogation. A thick string, made from animal hide was stretched between the two ends passing over the quadrilateral and the semicircular shaped extremities. With the string attached, the implement acquired the look of a safety pin magnified in the scale of 1:50. The tool was used for renewing old, mouldy and crushed cotton that had been inside a quilt or a mattress for a long time. Cotton was fluffed by winding the old cotton on the string and striking it with a dumbbell shaped wooden object while keeping the nose covered with a cloth to avoid inhaling dust. Every single stroke of the string created a sound which was much more profound than the sound produced by striking the thickest string of a Spanish acoustic guitar and it mesmerized every single child who could not leave as long as cotton was being fluffed. Quilt makers used to visit during winter, rarely during summer but never during monsoon. The vendor used to carry the implement and there was a porter who used to carry fresh cotton in a large jute sack on his head and walked behind the vendor.

Ice cream sellers were the ones who created maximum excitement among children. Those ice creams were made by freezing colored water, sweetened with sugar and the color of the ice cream stained the lips and tongues which lasted till the consumption of the next meal. There was another variety of ice cream, little costlier, made of milk and sugar. Vendors used to bring ice creams in two wheeled carts having two wooden legs, slightly shorter in height than the wheels; wooden legs were fixed at the two front corners. The wooden legs supported the cart on the ground by preventing it from rolling while the vendor remained busy selling his merchandise. It also had two handles for pushing it on the street. Before pushing the cart, the handles had to be a pressed a little towards the ground to disengage the wooden legs. There were also many ice cream vendors, selling only one variety of ice cream, the cheaper one, who used to carry their merchandise in thermally insulated boxes that they carried on their heads. Ice cream vendors were seen during hot weather and never during winter or monsoon.
During summer evenings another form of indigenous ice cream called ‘Kulfi’ was available. It was made from sweetened flavored milk, frozen inside a small cone shaped metallic container with a lid, using salt and ice as freezing mixture. The lid was kept tightly sealed using a flat rubber band to prevent the milk from mixing with saline water. Kulfis were sold by cutting into small pieces and served on a dry Sal leaf (Shorea robusta) to be consumed by piercing with a thin wooden stick having the size and shape of a toothpick.
[To be continued]

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