Smile

by Dwarkesh Bagri

The day probably can be best described in a single word as Late. It all culminated with running late that I left my earphones at home. Running with a 7kg bag to catch the train which had already started, I was lucky enough to make it. The train was familiar, the faces familiar but the sounds, the sounds were new to me. There wasnt any music in my ears to take me away from the cacophony inside the coach. I stood near the open area marked as the door which incidentally is never present. The red seats packed. In the seats allocated for 3 people 4 were sitting and another one comes up and asks Dada,ektu., while gesturing those sitting to squeeze themselves and adjust. Two more come and stand near ready to pounce at the shortest notice of any seat emptying. Scenes, all too regular. Slowly the train picked speed and a familiar face rose from his seat. Bespectacled, wearing a faded brown printed kurta and black pants with chappals whose sole are all but gone. He positions himself at the center of the sitting area. From the first day of my internship Ive seen this man on the train but have never heard him. He picks up what looks like a body bag originally white in colour but with years slightly yellow throughout and the blue borders struggling to hold on to the bag.

Like a magician or a performer before the performance he surveys his audience, his customers. I have bought with me things you want. No! Need. Things you are going to use everyday and surprisingly available at a very low cost, he exclaims in perfect Bangla. He pauses, as if for dramatic effect, and looks around again to see which passengers are looking at him and who arent. I try and follow his eyes to understand what he is looking for. Attention, enthusiasm or curiosity perhaps. From his bag he pulls out his first item, a simple ordinary blue colored lighter used in kitchen. Yes, something which everyone uses everyday. He says it isnt just a lighter, it has torch too and as if on cue and with practice he switches on the torch (a small led light) with the flick of a switch. He smiles. A smile that compels you to look at him. Two molars missing and with gap between the two front teeth, he smiles. Some people raise their heads and look at him, while others probably the more seasoned ones carry on about with their business. Like an experienced salesman he passes on this piece of wonder which he claims he made himself and guaranteeing full functioning to few people who are amazed and forcefully urging some reluctant few to have a look. All this while, he has a smile on his face and cracks a joke or two about the high priced items sold outside. Meanwhile a few jokes are made in the compartment about his product to which he sometimes smiles, and sometimes responds with a witty quip. Never insulting anyone and still smiling. Perhaps years of experience has taught him well. He knows his audience way too well. Meanwhile, in the corner behind him I wonder what possible situation can arise for the need of a torch with a lighter. I give up.

Never mentioning the price and not even asking it back from the people he grins and brings forth a small packet out of the big bag. A small girl peeps into the bag to see what else is there, her mother pulls her back and gives a look which brings the girl back to her seat, in the lap of the father although disappointed. The salesman takes out small glass containers with yellow, green, and transparent liquids in them caped with a plastic cap. He talks about flowers and their purity and essence and freshness. With a smooth twirl he opens a bottle which has a plastic roller ball on top of the glass. Moving his hands along his kurta vertically and then horizontally he proceeds to tell how to apply the ittar and how fresh it is. Rose, Saffron, Jasmine, Poppy, Park Avenue. Park Avenue? I thought I misheard him but he repeats and surely it was Park Avenue. I cant fathom what is going on but his customers can and like previously the bottles are passed but unlike the last time he tell the price. Rupees 10 he says. A steal a Rupees 10 but that is what the value is and I dont steal from my customers he claims. He convinces few people just with his smile and affability and they buy. Once the first person agrees to purchase slowly many in the compartment follow and soon the packet is empty. In swift motions like a fielder who picks up the ball and throws it back to the wicketkeeper he collects the cash and gives the bottles off.

Suddenly a woman asks how much for the lighter and he turns his attention to her and says 200 with a smile. She protests. He smiles and says okay how much would you give, she says 100. With a chuckle he shakes his head and says wont be possible for him. They settle at 150 when he says I brought it for you and repeats I dont steal form my customer. Another man asks for the lighter, few more for the perfume. He nods when someone demands and acknowledges them. Soon the uninterested are looking at the transactions.

He turns back to his bag, smiles, and takes out the screw drivers. Before he can begin the train comes to a screeching halt and there is a commotion inside. Few people push and get down. A couple of guys rudely push him out of the way. He smiles. New faces come inside. He shuffles the bag and pushes the content inside back to positions. With a slight struggle he lifts the bag and starts moving towards another compartment. As he passes me the smiling salesman grimaces and in anguish moves towards a different crowd. The veil of the effervescent smile disappears when he isnt talking to his customers. The confident shoulders droop and in labored motions he reaches the other end of the compartment.

The show begins.

He smiles.

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