The Colour of Jhal-Muri | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 04, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 04, 2010

TangentsBY IHTISHAM KABIR

The Colour of Jhal-Muri

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The Many Faces of Mr. Anwar, Jhal-Muri Vendor. Photo: Ihtisham Kabir

I love the Laxmi Bazar neighbourhood because children from local schools fill the street, and they happily pose for a photo. During one of my visits, I was walking with my camera when I noticed a man on the footpath close to St. Gregory's. His unusual attire caught my attention. I quickly took a picture and moved on.
Back home, I looked at the photo and shook my head. Why would anyone dress like that?
I found the answer on my next visit there. The man was at the same spot wearing a different outfit. This time I stopped and looked around.
He was selling Jhal-Muri, a popular street snack made from puffed rice, green chilli, onions and spices. His stall was next to a lamppost. A giant container of puffed rice and several other ingredients were balanced on a tiny table under a large colourful umbrella. He introduced himself as Mr. Anwar Hossain.
I decided not to beat around the bush.
“Er, why do you wear these outfits?”
He thought for a bit. “To make people happy... Children love them. I have one for every day of the week.”
How did he start in Jhal-Muri?
“I was working at Hotel Al-Razzaque when a friend came up with the idea. That was sixteen years ago. I have never looked back.”
How many people buy from him? “I go through fifteen kg of Muri and two kg of green chilli, feeding about 1000 customers daily.” Children are 30-40% of his customers.
I asked Mr. Anwar about his workday. He cooks ingredients (daal and spice pastes) for his Jhal-Muri before dawn. Then - from nine to six - he sells at this spot. Afterwards he moves to Sadarghat catering to night shoppers. He is married with one son and takes Fridays off.
I sat down to watch him in action. Numerous customers stopped by. When a mother brought her ten-year-old schoolgirl, Mr. Anwar asked the girl to recommend the Jhal-Muri to me. But the endorser turned problematic. “It is bad! Very bad!” she told me, tongue-in-cheek. Then Mr. Anwar handed over her Jhal-Muri. Her smile of anticipation was enough endorsement.
What were some memorable days for Mr. Anwar?
“Sometimes I dispense Jhal-Muri at parties - picnics in Gazipur, weddings in Lal Kuthi that I enjoy very much. I have also appeared on TV singing my song...”
“Huh? You write songs too?” I interrupted.
“It goes like this:
I just cannot win my friend's heart
This life of selling Muri is so hard.”
Before leaving, I tried his Jhal-Muri in both wet and dry versions. The dry Jhal-Muri was crunchy with fresh lemon juice, onions and coriander leaves. The wet one had daal and spice pastes coating the rice with a smoky cinnamon flavour. While both were delicious, I preferred mine dry.
Colourful Mr. Anwar, along with his delightful customers, can be found next to the Prince Bakery in Laxmi Bazar.

ihtishamkabir@yahoo.com
The Daily Star

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