The Coriander Girls

In a vegetable market somewhere where rich people buy and poor sell, a small girl of about five in dirty and torn shirt and skirt squatting on an emptied cement sack with about fifty small bunches of coriander leaves piled in front of her keenly looks at neatly dressed five year-old boy clinging to his mother’s sari asking for an ice-cream. Her meditation was interrupted by a man of about forty who looked poor and who asked her the price of a bunch. ‘Five,’ she said. ‘Will you give three for ten,’ he asked. ‘Yes’ she said. He picked up three bunches and scrutinized closely then said, ‘only stalks and no leaves’ and threw the bunches back to the pile.

The girl didn’t seem to care or respond in any manner. She resumed her meditation towards the boy who slowly disappeared in the crowd. She then started her usual routine of reading faces who came close to her. If she thought that the person was going to buy the leaves, she used to whimper ‘one for five.’ Three giggling twelve year-old girls came and asked her the price. She told them that one bunch cost five rupees. They giggled and went. As if they came to the market just to giggle.

Another girl near her started yelling, ‘two for five.’ Then our five year-old whimpered ‘two for five’ too. But the crowd seemed totally uninterested in coriander leaves. In an hour, nobody bought a single bunch. Even for ‘two for five.’ After the sunset a squalid boy of about eight came to the girl and asked, ‘today coriander leaves huh?’ ‘Will you play ice-baraf?’ she asked. The boy nodded. The girl stood up stepped back stooped and wrapped up the leaves with the sack and took it to the mother vegetable stall and told her mother who was breastfeeding her younger daughter while selling the vegetables that she was going to play ice-baraf. The other girl who was a bit older was still yelling, ‘two for five.’

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