Fiction: Cotton Candy Politics

Tejaswinee Roychowdhury

 by Tejaswinee Roychowdhury


Mohua boarded the crowded local and grimaced.

She had snapped at Amit, “I am ladies, so I will sell in the ladies’ compartment. You are gents, you go sell in gents’ compartment.” Amit had grinned baring his betel-leaf-stained uneven teeth and with a forty-five-degree nod to his right said, “Hyan, didibhai. From next time, ekdom gents’ compartment!” He then put his free hand to his chest and declared, “Whatever you say, didibhai, I listen.” Yet, there he was the very next day, selling plastic-wrapped cotton candies to the ladies.

It was a question of access to customers. Amit would always board the Bandel-bound locals from Howrah while Mohua would board them from Hindmotor. By the time she did, a large chunk of her potential customers would be lost, and even though Amit would always hop off the train at Srirampur and run towards another local, Mohua with her polio-affected leg had no choice but to stay in the train until Hooghly where the crowd would be thinned enough for her to unboard safely with her large woven plastic bag. However, for Amit too, it was about access to customers. He had discovered that it was typical of women travelling in the ladies’ compartments to buy one or two packets of cotton candy. In the general compartments, which both Mohua and Amit would refer to as ‘gents’ compartment’, lone men and men with their wives tended to ignore cotton candies unless they were travelling with a child, which although seems usual, is not, particularly on weekday evenings.

Mohua understood why Amit boarded the ladies’ compartments, but his customer issue was not her problem. She let out a cry, “E-special offer! Didira, bonera, buy two get one free! Three ten-rupee cotton candy packets at twenty rupees only!”

Amit, who was selling them ten-rupees a piece glared at her for a split second and bellowed, “Special cotton candy! Made from special healthy sugar of 100 rupees per kg! No fat, no diabetes! Sugar patients can enjoy too! Buy special cotton candy at ten rupees only!”

The two cotton candy sellers yelled their offers over and over, their wits and voices overlapping, caught in a fight for subsistence and space. Well-dressed and not-so-well-dressed women returning from offices and universities sniggered. Women squatting on the train’s floors by the door, having toiled all day, laughed and slapped each other on the arm. Few women continued to sleep, and one woman with French-manicured acrylic nails streamed the #hilarious cotton candy rivalry to her 317 followers on Instagram.

The local sped past electric poles, trees, and houses with windows for eyes.

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