International Writers Magazine:
For a Tuesday morning,
the market streets seem extraordinarily busy, but my friend Sonal, who
lives in Mumbai, tells me the crowds never die down. "Make sure you
hold my hand," she instructs me, as if I was a child. But after passing
through the entrance of this market, I realise that it is in fact difficult
not to get lost. A man carrying a heavy sack on his back and dripping
with sweat is approaching us. He is marching so intensely that it would
be a sin to stop him. We let go of each other's hands and let him pass.
market vendors a league of their own
after stall of flowers greet me as I enter a chaotic street in Bhuleshwar,
one of Mumbai's oldest markets. A man stands on my right engrossed
in stretching his hand and pouring hot chai from high above into
a small glass, a cart-puller leisurely approaches me with strawberries,
and I notice some girls sitting in by the roadside playing a ball
game as if in their home.
Amid the talking and movement, I hear a familiar Bollywood song coming
from above me. As I look up, the brightness of the sun attacks my eyes.
India in June is scorching, but Im glad Ill miss the monsoons.
A lady who is trying to bargain with the spice-stall vendor below shouts
in Hindi to the open window where the tape recorder sits. But for me,
the strong beats enliven the street, making me want to dance.
When entering the market, it felt as though I was about to submerge into
mayhem, but standing stationary amidst the hundreds of consumers and vendors,
I realise there is a structure and organisation on these frenetic streets.
As in every arena of Indian life, a caste system is in place. There is
a league of sellers.
A man holding a basket of freshly roasted peanuts approaches me. A cloth
turban, used as padding to carry his basket, lines this old mans
head. He looks thin, but walks with a youthful energy. Roaming the streets
of this market, he sells paper cones filled with peanuts for three rupees
each. Many like him journey the day with their baskets, selling food,
hair-clips, pens, flowers and books. They feature near the bottom of the
Cart-pullers come next. A fruit vendor stands on one side leaning to the
front to organise his abundance of apples and guavas. A circular line
of smoke passes over his fruit from the two incense sticks erected on
a guava, lying on the edge of his cart. A warm sandalwood smell wafts
to me, attracting me to the stall. Other carts sell anything from vegetables
to decorations, and with a constant influx of buyers, they certainly don't
seem desperate for business. Some stand lazily while customers approach
them, while others walk around flaunting their products.
Parallel to cart vendors in the class structure are tea makers and market-cooks
engrossed in preparing their fresh and tasty food on the street. At the
juncture of another street stands a young boy hidden behind a stack of
roasted papads. He seems to be minding this cart for his father, who shouts
to him from across the street barber where he is getting a clean shave.
Touching the barbers corner sits a man comfortably on his stool
polishing shoes, taking advantage of extra customers drawn in by the barber.
A notch higher are the outdoor booths, vendors with somewhat larger makeshift
stalls, selling shoes, clothes, belts, tools and absolutely anything else.
I approach a crowded stall whose inner walls are squeezed with shoes.
Hardly one particle of white cloth peeks from between the array of sandals.
The clothes stall next in line boasts splashes of bright colours. "Madame,
a skirt for you?" and out he pulls a pile of brilliant pinks and
blues from the plethora of organised heaps. "Maybe a top for you,"
he looks at Sonal, who does not understand why Im still standing
The feverish life of the market continues between two rows of old buildings.
It is these that inhabit the highest class of traders in this market;
those who make business. Sonal takes me to a small shop housing antique
jewellery. She tells me the owner is an expert, and knows how many hundreds
of years old each item is.
Our entrance does not stir the large man whose body is pressed between
the locked table showcasing antique bracelets and the glass window behind
him displaying necklaces. He seems bored by the newspaper that stares
at him, and does not appear to be interested in selling. We quietly browse
through the shelves of history.
"Mahantji isnt here?," asks a middle-aged lady who has
just strolled in. The skilled owner has gone home for lunch. She seems
to be a regular customer of his. Around her neck is her mangalsutra, a
necklace made of tiny black beads clutching a rusty gold pendant, a symbol
of marriage. "I bought this here," she said trying to peer down
at it, "I dont know how old it is, but I asked Mahantji to
carve Gods name on the plaque. It looked a bit empty before."
I realise that this particular stretch of shops are all in the jewellery
trade. There is a labyrinth of streets in this market, and each gullie
or alley is dedicated to different products, from decorations and flowers
to jewellery and wedding clothes. "Even if you know these streets
well, theres no way you can finish it in a day," Sonal tells
A few hours has given me only a taste of market life in India. I dont
want to give up the exploration so easily, but the sun is beaming like
a torch on my head. As I leave the market, a strong masala chai smell
awakens my taste buds. My eyes turn to the man still pouring hot chai,
and I persuade Sonal to join me for a quick shot.
© Meera Manek September 2007
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