My local phoolwallah was Dagdu Kaalabocha. The Dadgu stood for Dyaneshwar. But Kaalabocha, very simply is Black Bottom. Dagdu occupied a corner of the street in the next lane. His shop was festooned with garlands. Little ones with mogras and a marigold at the centre. Elaborate ones decked with more flowers.
I used to pop across to pick up the cheaper options for the altar at home. Four nos. in all. One for the picture of Jesus in the centre, the other two for the Mother of Perpetual Succor and Mary Help Of Christians flanking Him. The last one was for the altar itself. The altar that had tacked to its sides a length of what mum called an altar cloth. A 2×1 ft length of cloth with the image of Jesus painstakingly embroidered by mum with the legend Jesus Saves! Dagdu would wrap the garlands in huge green leaves, chuck in a couple of and loose flowers (which were scattered at the feet of the Infant Jesus, Mother of Perpetual Succor and a few others) with the same thread he used for the garlands.
A wizened, scrawny man, with dirty grey hair, I have never seen Dagdu dressed in anything but a white banian with sleeves and khaki knee-length shorts that flared at the knees, the same favoured by the navy blue shorts-clad Bombay havaldar of old. It was these pair of shorts that fetched Dagdu the moniker which spent him into a frenzy, making him release a torrent of Marathi bad words (mainly – ay tuji aaichigaand bhadvya).
It was Dagdu’s habit to taked a well-earned nap between the morning and evening sessions of trade. So he would roll open his mat on the floor of his shop, tuck a little pillow under his head and grab some zoph. As a young girl who sleeps in a short nightie can testify, the garment will ride up. As a young aspiring Sunil Gavaskar, afternoons were spent playing gulli cricket, Mumbai equivalent to Rio’s beach football. The stumps were at the far end of the lane, the boundary at the other end was where Dagdu lay gently in sweet repose.
Being the least talented of the lot, it was my duty to patrol the boundary. God alone knows why I was entrusted with this task. But keep in mind it was in the good old days when fielding was what guys like me could do (or at least attempt to). In the course of retrieval of another well-smacked shot, one that landed in the immediate vicinity of Dagdu’s person, I came across the sight that earned Dagdu his name.
The red rubber ball was nestled between his legs, lying next to Dagdu’s jewels (he wasn’t no VIP man, for sure). The skirt like leg ends rode high to expose Dagdu’s scrawny buttocks. As mentioned earlier, Dagdu was a small man. And those little black buns were a sight that was legend in the area, viewing time between 2 and 4 p.m. every afternoon. Ladies and gentlemen, please to form an orderly line, and no autographs, o.k. because that would wake up the exhibit and defeat the entire purpose of the show.
Inevitably, rather than being the local eyesore, Dagdu, to me, is one of the local heroes. Adding colour to life with his flowers and black bottom. Dagdu has long since gone to The Great Flower Shop In The Sky. I have no idea if he has a family. But I hope somewhere in Maharashtra, in some little village, there’s a framed photograph of Dagdu where yesterday’s garland of flowers is being replaced with a fresh one today.