Veeraswamy Krishnaraj


There was once a bangle salesman, who went from village to village and town to town fitting women and girls with fashion bangles that came in rainbow colors. They were made of glass, plastic, silver, and gold. Besides, he fitted women with toe rings (= மெட்டி metti) made of silver. He specialized only in glass bangles. For select customers, he had bracelets made of single-piece rounded bone and ivory bangles and sometimes finely made wooden ones. They were special-order items and a deposit worth half the retail price was paid before the order was processed. There was a steady business in selling glass bangles. He sold shell bangles too. They always break, demand a replacement and generate more income. A woman cannot be found without bangles: It is atrocious and next to being a widow. The bangle salesman sometimes sold fragrant homemade soaps, hairpins, and shampoos. 1

For himself, he always wore expensive chains and rings. He was handsome with a skin tone that matched tender mango leaves and had to look great to do business with women. Sometimes, he used to bring his wife and children along to create a wholesome image as a family man. When his wife could not tag with him, his 4-year-old was his apprentice. When something went wrong in the village or town, the last visitor at the house was the prime suspect. He always maintained a decorum with women and girls. Every day, he handled women's hands massaging them with oil or soap lather to slide the bangles on to the wrists. 2

Instead of going from house to house to fit the women with bangles, he went to the village square where elders assembled for village business transactions. From there, word went out to the village womenfolk about the bangle salesman. He did business in the presence of elders, children, and husbands. Some women to obviate jealousy from their husbands went through some procedural elements. She pointed out the bangles she wanted; the salesman put the chosen bangles on the floor; she picked up and tried them herself without the manipulations from the bangle seller. No, the husbands did not opt to play the role of bangle fitter. The salesman would allow breakage of up to two self-fitted bangles, only if the client bought bangles. If there was no purchase, she had to pay for the broken bangles. If he was sliding the bangles on to the wrists, and they break, there was no charge. The women knew the rules. 3

The bangle salesman had cardboard tubular racks to park his bangles. He sorted the bangles and colors, one color a tube. It was easier to access what the clients wanted. The large sizes were way up in the back of the tubes and accessible, the small ones in the middle and the standard sizes in the front. He had markers between sizes. 4

The four-year-old would not only help his father but play with the village kids when time permitted. The headman of the village entertained them for a meal. He would arrive at about 11AM and leave by 3 PM, so he was back home for supper. He would never stay outside his home in the dark. He knew his wife and children worried about him when he was not home for supper. He conducted his business within a five-mile radius from his house. If he went to distant villages, he usually stayed with one of his relatives in the town and did business in outlying communities. He knew of incidents when traveling salesmen were robbed by thugs emerging from the woods and disappearing back into the thick of the jungle. Those jungles were habitat for carnivores. His plans were well laid out, and he adhered to them strictly. He traveled by a horse-drawn cart. The cart was well made with good springs between the cabin and the axle. He did not fit the horse with leather-flap blinkers because he wanted his horse to have a good view of the road and the surroundings. He (not It) was a good horse not distracted easily and not needing the blinkers. Besides, he slept in the cart sometimes. Somebody had to keep awake on the jungle roads. 5

He was staying with his paternal uncle in a distant town and was selling his bangles in the surrounding villages. One day he was traveling to a village alone on the horse-drawn cart, sold his merchandise to the village folks and was returning to his uncle's house. On the way, he stopped to offer prayer to the roadside deity, who protected the travelers. The ritual was simple: Present the deity a fruit, circumambulate the shrine, pay respects and leave. The road was narrow and was dotted with pullouts every few miles. Usually, these pullouts had trees under which man and beast rested. Some pullouts had a hewn-rock water reservoir for draft animals. In season, roadside vendors sold tender coconuts, mangoes, spiced buttermilk drinks... 6

When he pulled his cart out of the road, he disengaged the draft horse from the harness and let it graze nearby. As he was snoozing in the shade under a Banyan tree, a tiger appeared from the jungle and went for the horse. The horse took one look, jumped on the hind legs and made itself look towering over the tiger. The tiger lunged; the horse came down on the tiger with its full weight and broke one of the tiger's hind legs. The heavy thud woke up the salesman. Before he could act, the tiger limped back into the jungle. The horse was calm, seeing the tiger disappear. Salesman thanked the horse, his stars and the roadside deity for saving him (and the horse) from the intruding tiger. He thought that the horse might be Hayagriva, the incarnation of Vishnu (in a horse). He knew the tiger would not mess with any horse soon. 7

He put the harness on the horse for the next leg on the journey. The horse, though performing well drawing the cart, was neighing and grunting with foam at the mouth. He did not appear weak by any means. The horse was reliving his tiger moment.
When he arrived at his uncle's house, that was the story told and often retold to everyone who cared to hear him with cocked ears and gaping mouths. The news was the talk of the town for some time. Now every one of the travelers by that road would look out for a limping tiger. Some people made large shields with sharp spikes to face the tiger on their travels. Some made painted face head masks clipped to the back of the head as they walked forward with the belief that the tiger would not attack a person with face and eyes looking at it. 8

A few years later, the horse became unsteady and wobbly on its hind legs, and the veterinarian diagnosed it as a case of Wobbler disease of the cervical spine. The horse was put into a retirement home for the horses to spend leisure time in his last days. The townsfolk attributed the sickness to wrath and curse of Siva and Durga on the horse for breaking the tiger's hind leg. Siva is Pasupati, Lord of animals. Durga rides a tiger. 9

The bangle salesman bought another horse in one of his client villages for a reasonable price and visited the old horse in the retirement home. If it were not for the horse, the tiger would have killed him. 10

He also bought a monkey from a monkey handler as a travel companion, who would screech at the sight of a carnivore when his senses were not in a heightened alert. This was a performing monkey, strong, hyperalert, domesticated and good with people. The monkey handler had another monkey for his entertainment business. The monkey also would entertain the children, when he went from village to village selling bangles. 11

Life with the family, horse, and monkey went months with no untoward incident. Children were growing up and going to school and never accompanied their father on his business trips. His wife devoted her life to raising the children and had no time to go with him. His reputation as a good man was known around towns and villages. 12

In another town and another village, he stayed and plied his trade as he usually did follow his age-old rules: Return home for supper. This time, he stayed with his maternal aunt. His uncle went on occasions for spearfishing. He was good at it and used to bring home speared fish for his aunt to cook it. The bangle salesman went spearing for fish with his uncle. He became very adept at it. 13

It was another village to go to gain new clients. Yes, this time, as usual, the monkey was his travel companion, and the horse was the draft animal. His business was thriving, but he never overstayed in a village beyond 3PM or a few hours from his dinner time at home. This was the time when the villages did not expand and coalesce with other villages and the town. This limitation kept the deforestation under control, where many animals roamed. He sold his bangles at a good profit and was returning home along a jungle path with loads of cash. The sun was dipping; imminence of dusk was threatening; the birds were returning to the tree-nests, and the melancholy of the night was menacing. This was ominous for him because his business kept him too long in the village, and he could not break away from the villagers. The dark jungle with thick foliage on either side of the road was kindling his primal fears. His fears came true as dark shadows emerged from the edges of the forest on either side of the road. He had cash. He could give it away with no resistance. What would they do to him, the monkey and the horse? Fear paralyzed him. Suddenly the thugs with knives and spears stood there speechless and fell flat on the ground as if they were worshiping a deity (Shastanga Namaskaram = 8-limb prostration). 14  

He looked around gingerly and saw the monkey giving a pose of Vara and Abhaya Mudras (A pose up-turned high five position of right palm and down-held left palm, both facing the devotee, a telling by the deity of his or her offer of protection and boon). The thugs were the devotees of Hanuman. Where did the monkey learn this sacred pose? Yes, from the days as the performing monkey. The thugs immediately paid obeisance to the monkey and disappeared into the dark caverns of the deathly moonless night. The thugs saw the monkey as a stand-in for Hanuman in its appearance and pose. The monkey saved the day for the bangle seller. Hanuman: Hanuman is a Hindu god and helped Rama in finding his abducted wife and his war against Ravana. 15