These vendors in Janpath market can talk in English, French, Spanish... enough to make a sale
The Janpath street market in the heart of Delhi is a shopper’s delight. But amid its vibrancy and variety, there’s one lane that stands out. It’s perhaps the most colourful, most beautiful — the Gujarati lane, adjacent to the Freemasons Hall.
What strikes a visitor? Besides the colourful display of handicraft products like bed linen, stoles, purses, bags and more, it’s the polyglotism of the Gujarati and Rajasthani vendors. Since the street is a favourite among foreigners visiting the area, the vendors here have mastered striking a conversation in English, French, Spanish, German and many more languages, at least enough to make a sale.
These polyglots, most of whom haven’t attended school or a foreign language diploma, have learnt it all on the job.
Ajit, who helps the owner of a shop, says the streets have taught him more than a school ever could. The proud young man is fluent in Hindi, but switches to English when a foreigner visits. “English toh almost sabhi foreigners ko aati hai, par agar koi French ya Spanish bolne waala aa jaaye to usse baat karne mein bhi ab problem nahi hoti. Kuch 15 saal se yeh job kar rahe hain, bahot kuchh seekhne ko mil gaya hai yahan (I can also talk in French and Spanish now having spent 15 years working in this lane),” he says.
Almost every vendor in this street knows more than two languages (some up to seven) and this promises them a great sale day. Sagar, another seller in the market for almost 20 years now, has also acquired French and Spanish besides English. “Sab humne yahin seekha hai ya toh doosron se ya foreign customers se. Poori bhasha to nahi bol paate, par sale ke liye jitni zaroori hai, utni to humein aati hai (I’ve learnt whatever little I could to make a sale, either from other sellers or foreigners),” he says.
Explaining how it helps to attract a potential foreign buyer, he adds, “Agar Spain walon ko Spanish mein bolo ‘Quieres comprar’ matlab do you want to buy, toh unka dhyan zaroor idhar ata hai. At least they stop at the shop.”
Abha, a middle-aged woman selling bed linen and trinkets, doesn’t look like much of a talker, but she knows how to call out to potential customers, especially those who will shell out dollars. She has learnt English, French, Spanish and German by befriending customers. “Jo baahar se aate hain, unse baat karna accha lagta hai. Koi friendly ladies aati hai to unki bhasha mein kuchh seekh lete hain. Unki bhasha mein baat karna unhe bhi easy lagta hai. Koi Germany se hai toh ussey pooch lete hain ki German mei iss baat ko kaise kahenge ki ye top quality bedsheet hai (I like chatting with foreigners. They also find it easier to talk in their language. I ask them to teach me how to say that my product is of great quality),” she says.
But, the real gem of the market is a dholak seller, Mohd Shabar. He sells stuff on the go, and is fluent in Hindi and English, but can greet you and ask, ‘You want to buy’ in seven international languages. Otherwise shy, he excitedly flaunts his self-learnt French with “Vous voulez acheter? Where did the learning come from? “Paapi pet ke liye kiya (It’s all to earn my daily bread),” he says, now eyeing another potential customer.