The Bangle Salesman Veeraswamy Krishnaraj
Copyright Short Stories

The Bangle Salesman

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 meṭṭi) made of silver. He specialized only in glass bangles. For special customers, he had bangles made of single-piece perfectly 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 replacement and generate more income. A woman cannot be found without bangles: It is atrocious and next to being a widow. The bangle salesman once in a while sold fragrant homemade soaps, hairpins and shampoos.
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 along 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. Everyday, he handled women's hands massaging them with oil or soap lather to slide the bangles on to the wrists. 

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 arrival of 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.
The bangle salesman had cardboard tubular racks to park his bangles. He sorted the bangles and colors, one color a tube. It was thus 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 common sizes in the front. He had markers between sizes.

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 villages. 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 travelled 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 once in a while. Somebody had to keep awake on the jungle roads.
He was staying with his paternal uncle in a distant town and was selling his bangles in the surrounding villages. One day he was travelling to a village alone on the horse-drawn cart, sold his merchandise to the village folks and was getting back to his uncle's house. On the way, he stopped to offer prayer to the roadside deity, who protected the travellers. 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 venders sold tender coconuts, mangoes, spiced buttermilk drinks... 

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 Hyagriva, the incarnation of Vishnu (in the form of a horse). He knew the tiger would not mess with any horse anytime soon.

He put the harness on the horse for the next leg on the journey. The horse though performing well drawing the cart, he was neighing and grunting with foam at the mouth. He did not appear weak by any means. It appeared that the horse was reliving his tiger moment.
When he arrived at his uncle's house, that was the story told and retold many times to everyone who cared to hear him with cocked ears and gaping mouths. The news was the talk of the town for sometime. Now everyone of the travellers by that road would be looking 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 him.
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 a 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.
The bangle salesman bought another horse in one of his client villages for a reasonable price and made it a point to visit the old horse in the retirement home. If it was not for the horse, the tiger would have killed him.

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 heightened alert. This was a performing monkey, quite strong, hyperalert, domesticated and good with people. The monkey handler had another monkey for his entertainment business. The monkey also would serve to entertain the children, when he went from village to village selling bangles.

Life with the family, horse, and monkey went months without any untoward incident. Children were growing up and going to school and never accompanied their father on his business trips. His wife devoted her life raising the children and had no time to go with him. His reputation as a good man was known around towns and villages.

In another town and another village he stayed and plied his trade as he usually did following his age-old rules: Return home for supper. This time, he stayed with his maternal aunt. His uncle went on occasions hunting for fish with a spear. 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.

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 all kinds of 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 without any resistance. What would they do to him, the monkey and the horse? Fear paralyzed him. Suddenly the thugs with knives and spears stood their speechless and fell flat on the ground as if they were worshiping a deity (Shastanga Namaskaram = 8-limb prostration). 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.

Days, weeks and months went by with no major incidents. It was business as usual. The salesman developed a grateful devotion to Lord Hanuman and performed special puja for the Lord in the local temple. It became a once-yearly event for him to do puja to Hanuman.
He took a break from his usual vocation and went on a pilgrimage to a temple with his family in tow. There were many families from his place who went as a group to the pilgrimage town. They used to camp out on public lands to do their nightly cooking, morning washing...They slept under the open skies, the stars were blinking; the moon was waxing and waning; the foxes were yelping. They were in communion with Nature. They found strength and comfort in a group. There were ominous signs that the peace and quiet would take leave. There were dark clouds, thunder and lightning in the distance. The children slept close to their parents in the open fields. A python slithered over to a sleeping family and started winding around the three-year-old boy and was squeezing his life out of his body. He cried and cringed in pain; the monkey jumped and screeched; and the dog with the other children yelped. Yes, they had a grateful stray dog tagging along with them and surviving on scraps. The bangle salesman before he knew who the victim was, plunged his spear into the mouth of the python several times and in that act, he severed its spinal cord along with the head and limp went the python. The boy, on his own, wriggled out of python's concentric grip and lived to tell his story for the rest of his life. The child was his nephew. 

The extended families reached the temple town on seven hills. They prayed and thanked the Lord for his munificent bequeath of second life for the boy. Then they came in the temple face to face with Krishna playing his flute on the river serpent Kalia's hood. They thanked Him for his help in saving the boy Nanda. Nanda never turned his face towards the bed of Vishnu which is the ocean snake Sessa with concentric coils (or the Yamuna River snake Kalia).
After having had a good Dharsan of the Lord of the Hills, they were returning home. The elders of the families advised to offer Sarpabali (offerings to snake for harm caused to the snake) to ward off the ill effects of having harmed a snake (Sarpa Dosha). All agreed and brought coconuts, flowers, fruits, rice and turmeric to a temple on the way and performed Sarpabali in Tantric style with the help from a priest.
They all including the monkey and the dog came home safe and sound. The salesman adopted the dog because it gave a life-saving service in sounding the alarm on the serpent.
From that day onwards, he gave his thanks to his spear by performing Ayuda Puja (veneration and worship of any implement and or weapon) every year, which is arranging the tools of the trade, books, stethoscopes (doctors)... before the deity (Durga Paramesvari) and offering prayers. It is part of the Navaratri festival (festival of nine nights). The soldiers worship their weapons, the students the books, doctors their medical armamentarium, musicians their musical instruments, computer nerds their computers... all arranged before the three deities Durga, Mahalakshmi and Sarasvati.

Durga is the demon killer, meaning she kills the demons in us (Kriya Sakti = Action power). Darkness of the mind is Tamas and thus the dark demons are killed by Durga. Once the mind is cleansed of darkness, Durga hands over the mind to Mahalakshmi, who removes Rajasic Vikshepa (moving of the eyes of the mind = false perception). Mahalakshmi helps man acquire Will Power (Iccha Sakti) by worship. Once Tamas and Rajas are dissipated, the mind is receptive for spiritual enlightenment (Jāna Sakti). Three days and nights to remove darkness, three to remove false perceptions, and three to acquire wisdom: all amount to nine days and nights in the removal of darkness and false perceptions and attainment of knowledge. The 10th day is Vijayadasami (= victory on the 10th day).
The principal Shakti goddesses worshiped during the Ayudha puja are Sarasvati (the Goddess of wisdom, arts and literature), Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth) and Parvati alias Durga (the divine mother), apart from various types of equipment.