Many years ago in Mauritius, street hawkers used to criss-cross residential roads on their old bicycle, peddling their wares directly to people’s door. Nowadays, they are as common as the dodo.
What did they sell?
They were a common sight, either cycling on their bicycle with a light load, or pushing a heavily-laden one in front of them. But what were they selling like this? Food of course, from cooked ones like dholl-puris to gâteaux piment (chilli cakes) and ice creams called kolfi malay (cold cream and ice) and uncooked food such as fruits and vegetables. The fishseller was common as well and the breadseller was welcome everyday for not so fresh bread!
Furniture on a bicycle
I even remember one selling furniture on his bicycle. There was no need for a lorry. Sure, it was small pieces of furniture such as shelves, stools and small chairs but there was even a small dining table, the likes of which you can now get at Ikea. Would you carry this table home on a bike? This guy made his living doing it. He would assemble pieces of wood together at home, simply but beautifully, jump on his bicycle or rather load it and push it and start earning money. As simple as that.
Nowadays, as a sign that times have changed, the only hawker you might be able to find is one selling plastic – from buckets to cookware.
Death of an industry?
Why has all this changed? Why has this small industry died? These sellers on their bicycle were a welcome sight to the housebound wife or old person, providing a useful service delivering much needed food or items. Children used to wait impatiently for the ice cream seller on a hot summer evening. At teatime, we used to wait for the sweet cakes seller.
Street hawkers on their bicycle haven’t really disappeared. They have relocated! Instead of cycling up and down roads and shouting loudly to advertise their wares, they now head directly to markets. Nowadays, more and more people have a car and they can fill it up once a week or once a month with their shopping. There is no need anymore to rely on a hawker who might or might not come or to miss them by a couple of minutes. Those same people now jump in their car to meet the sellers behind their market stall where business is brisk.
Times have changed a lot, yes. The sight and sound of a dholl-puri seller, shouting loudly while cycling to get people to come out of their house and buy from him, are no more. Now people go to meet him at the market, load up the car and head back home. Times have changed and it’s the other way round.