South Asian traders have a fascinating repertoire of calls

In April, last year, Muhammad Shahid Nazir wouldn’t have guessed that his trader’s call would be ranked fourth on the UK Dance Chart- 2012. An immigrant from Pakistan’s Punjab province, Nazir came to Britain on a student visa only to end up as a fishmonger in London’s Queen’s Market. The trader’s call “One Pound Fish” that he composed went viral after locals posted it on YouTube on All Fools Day in 2012. Nazir won a contract with Warner Music to record a single track of the song which, among other things, featured Bollywood style dancing girls and former BBC Weatherman Michael Fish.

Due to the abundance of such natural artists in the South Asia, cult status- like Nazir’s- evades them here. Delhi’s Sarojini Nagar Market- known for its apparel stores and hawkers- also features such musically inclined vendors especially on weekends. Like Nazir, their trader’s calls are often targeted towards women.

For example: “Arey Madam, aapki nazar kidhar hai? Asli maal tho idhar hai.” (Where is your gaze Madam, the real goods are here) and “Arey gira gira gira gira! Aaj daam gir gaya.” (Oh! It’s fallen fallen fallen fallen, prices have fallen today.”

The vendors on trains, particularly the ones that pass through Uttar Pradesh, by far have the best calls in these parts. Groundnuts are the most popular snack on day trains like the Gomti Express. The coach floors are carpeted with groundnut shells by the time the train reaches Lucknow at night. Groundnut vendors too are aplenty and their trader’s calls in Khari Boli- the dialect of western Uttar Pradesh- are as much a treat as their goods.

“Arey Moongphali le lo! Noon ke saath khayi, churan ke saath khayi, paisa na ho tho muft khayi.” (Get your groundnuts. Have them with salt, have them with churan (powder). If you have no money, then have them free.) A group of college students travelling from Kanpur to Lucknow, in the same coach as this reporter, demanded free groundnuts saying they have no money. The vendor flicked his enormous white moustache and gave them a groundnut each. “Karari hain aur taazi, khayein kotwal aur qazi,” he called. (Crunchy and fresh, eaten by police inspectors and Muslim clerics)

The groundnut sellers had to compete with a key chain pedlar who promised a lot more from his ware. Carrying large bunches of key chains with cowries he said, “Jahaan lage cowry, uhaan rupya daudi. (Wherever there’s a cowry, money will quickly gather.” A young girl asked the vendor, if she could feel his cowry bunch. He said loudly, “UP mein maango tho mile kattha, yahaan bitiya bas maange guchcha. (In UP, you can get a country made pistol if you ask for it. But this little girl only wants this bunch.)