Rashmi Kaleka: saving the sounds of street vendors before they’re lost forever

Whether it’s the cry of “kaaaapii, kaaapi!!” on trains or “bhaji ghya, bhaaji” on the road in front of your house, the sing-song calls of vendors are a standard fixture in the colour of India; indeed, for most of us who grew up listening to hawkers peddling fresh fish or vegetables in the morning, or cobblers, smiths, and street food sellers who bring their wares to our doors, their cacophony of voices are an integral part of daily life.

However, with the advent of online shopping and the mushrooming of malls, the presence of vendors is fading. In recent year, authorities have also tried to remove them from the streets. Thankfully, Rashmi Kaleka, an artist-acting -as-an-anthropologist, has spent the past decade documenting the unique chants of street vendors, or pheriwallas before they dwindle away under a project called ‘Hawker A Day’.

Kaleka’s interest in sound stems from her childhood in Kenya where the rhythm and intonation of Swahili, Punjabi and the tribal dialects of her grandparents were etched in her memory. Upon travelling to Delhi in the early 2000’s, she started to record the rhythmic shouts of the vendors individually.

“I’ve always been into music, and I wanted to record their voices and give it an art form,” she said. “They will disappear soon. The growing economy will give them a lot more choices. So, by default, I am trying to preserve them.”

Here are a couple of her recordings:


Kaleka also created a collage of the cries, in collaboration with Swiss composer Hans Koch. “I’m just sculpting their sound as a form of space” she explains.

It’s a poignant effort to capture and preserve local forms of authentic culture about to disappear – music to our ears even, you might say.

For more information, click here to visit Kaleka’s blog.

Featured image source: Clear Impression Documentation Services 

Written by Anisha Kashwani


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