The not so sweet sounds of sugar

We need photocopies of the deed

I looked at the bank official to check if she was joking. Surrounded by customers with different emotions stamped on their faces – give! Take! Need! Want! – the last thing she had time for was a joke.

So, on a hot Monday afternoon we set off from the bank to find the nearest photocopying shop.

Do you know where the shop is? I asked H.

Just around the corner – she said & lead the way.

Just around the corner turned to be a 10minute walk. Then wait for the other people before us to finish photocopying class notes, driving license, voter card, even a greeting card! Then came our turn. I handed over the documents to the shop lady, asked for extra copies just in case (which is always the case) & saw her put my docs in the magic machine. To me, anything that disappears behind a counter & becomes 2 or nil in magic! Like photocopying or stocks – take your pick.

In a bit the lady handed the copies plus the original to us, told us the charges – 27 bucks. I remember this because I had to literally empty the content of my wallet in the middle of the busy street to find the last of my change which I handed over to her. Then we set back to the bank. That was when we saw it right at the curb.

Let’s have one – I stopped & told H

H got startled by my sudden stop & quirky phrase – looked at me before looking at where I was looking to see the sugar cane vendor.

Satisfied that the sun hadn’t driven me nuts she nodded & said Ok. Then glanced up again & added, But I will have it without ice.

Now this is something you should know about H. For someone with myopic vision, who has to really be careful crossing streets, walking on gravel footpaths & being in dim lit spaces. And yet all it takes is one glance & can read the menu of an obscure sugarcane vendor hanging a good 10 meters away at one glance!

Amazed & irate at the same time, I checked the menu myself –

Half glass – Rs 15

Full glass – Rs 25

Full glass without ice – Rs 30.

Must be the only drink where not adding something costs you more! I cracked a one liner.

H giggled – more out of kindness than at the joke.

Bhaiya ek with ice ek without ice, I told the guys behind the machine.

There were two of them. The younger one kept account, the older ones kept the machine running. The younger one confirmed – one without ice, one with – both full glassed right?

Right! H’s reply caught me off guard.

While waiting for the juice, I took in the surroundings. Ladies selling flowers, ice-cream cart, cobbler, a couple of hawkers, Of course the photocopying lady – A busy bazaar corner. Back in the day all such corners had ganna / sugarcane juice shops.  And then I realised what’s missing.

Bhai, I addressed the young guy behind the counter.

The guy bobbed his head at me in a what?

Avaaz kidhar gaya? I pointed my finger at the machine while asking him where did the sound go?

H looked closely again guessing the sun had finally got to me. the young guy had the same look as H.

Not in these machines – it was the older guy who replied with a hint a smile. He knew what I was talking about. At sugar cane shops there would be a constant sound – like a bunch of anklets/small bells clanging together. It was a part of our growing up – sugarcane shop equals clanging anklets!

Why were those sounds there? I asked the older man.

He continued working, didn’t answer. I knew he had heard me.

The sounds would be small bells tied to both ends of the gears that crushed the sugarcane – this time the younger one answered – the canes were manually fed & extracted by hand.

So?

Back then remember they were giant machines – he continued his educating me on sugarcane machines –  you would have to strain your neck each time to check on the other side when to put your hand to pull out the cane.

Yes! To pull out the cane, bend it again to make it a smaller bundle & passed it through the machine again till it got all the juice in a glass! I gushed happy at my own knowledge.

Yes –the guy nodded amused at my knowledge, –but in a busy shop each time a guy has to keep check for each single cane, that’s a lot of time wasted. So, they came up with this bell thing.

But what would the bell really do?

The bells rang only when the sugar cane was placed between the tooth of the machine & when the actual crushing happened. The minute the machines stopped moving the bells stopped.

Ok.

Which meant now the sugarcane guy reached out with his hand across & got the crushed cane from the other end without even looking. This way they avoid crushing the hands in the machine.

Nice! These bells were there from the time they used to the hand rotated crushing machines, right? I confirmed.

First the hand-rotated ones, the old man confirmed while handing us a glass each – then came the diesel operated, now electric & finally fully automatic.

I saw they had the fully automatic one. The kind where in one go the entire cane got crushed & it dropped right in the bin. No pulling out the cane with your hands from the jaws of giant metal teeth. A relief for them. Still, I missed the anklet sounds somewhat.

Will you have another one?

H shook her head in a no.

How much?

Fifty-five.

Damn – the word slipped involuntarily from me as I realised, I had given away all my small change.

Kya Hua? The younger guy asked. The older man eyed me suspiciously. Me with all my bell & sound questions.

I looked at H. She would have to dig into her giant hand-bag. That had documents, lap-top, a gazillion other things which she would ask me to hold to get to the tiny little pocket purse trying to survive at the bottom of the handbag.

We accept G pay – the younger guy told me.

You do? I was relieved. The old man continued his work.

Has it happened – the question just weirdly popped into my head – that the bells stop ringing but the sugarcane is still being crushed?

I pressed the pay button for SS Juice centre.

Tha-dang!!

I heard the sound of money leaving my account. Still no answer to my question.  But the old man did remove his mobile from his pocket to check. He held it in his left palm – a bit awkward. I saw why – the little finger was missing !

Lets’ get to the bank fast – I hurried H to the bank as I finally understood the answer to my question.

Published by appamprawns

soni writes about children and people in controlled spaces, in his quest for appam stew. homi writes in the hope of being able to buy juicy prawns to make patiyo.

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