Their ghoonghats are deceptive; their humble shops even more so. But, behind every second covered head that sells handicrafts on the pavements of Janpath and Connaught Place is a woman who knows foreign languages, gets a facial every week, or ensures that her sunscreen has the best SPF.
Manju, 43, a vendor at stall number 27 on the Gujarati handicrafts lane of Janpath has been on the job since 40 years, and it has taught her a lot. She can speak Spanish, French and English, and even fake accent. “I learned all these languages here, sitting in this market. I can speak and understand basic words and also speak English with the accent that people from various countries have,” she says as she demonstrates how she does it. It seems absolutely effortless. “I cannot speak Japanese but people from Japan speak English with a very cute accent, and I speak to them in the similar Japanese accent,” she says.
Manju’s many co-sellers at the market can speak English as fluently as her and also a smattering of other languages, though most of them have never been to a school. “I have been sitting here for all my life, and I learned to speak English in this market. I have never been to a school to learn this language,” says Rakhi, 27, a handicraft seller who sits near the main Janpath flea market.
They also make it a point to dress up in colourful saris, bindis and lip colour every day. “I love to dress up. I get a facial done every two weeks, and I use Shahnaz Husain products, shampoo, mehndi and skin creams. I buy them from their shop in Connaught Place and also picked some from the Trade Fair and Surajkund mela recently,” says Usha Gangarai, 36, who sells handicrafts in A block, Connaught Place, near Hamilton House.
Veena, another vendor on the Janpath handicraft lane, adds, “It is very difficult to maintain your skin in this heat and sun, especially if you’re sitting outside. So I get a regular herbal facial done. I even apply a VLCC sunscreen lotion with high SPF, which I keep re-applying to ensure that my skin doesn’t get tanned.”