1638. — “We came into a Bussar, or very faire Market place.” — W. Bruton, in Hakl. v. 50.
There is something incurably romantic about the bazaars within the depths of the cities of India. The term bazaar has been naturalized in the English diction for many centuries now. In fact, if you look at the various usages of the term in dictionaries, a whole new range of meanings connected with human culture and human habitat emerge.
Why am I writing this post on bazaars, such a commonplace habitat of the human world? I really don’t know — just felt the internal urge to connect with you all through some mad trope that attracts me. I have been thinking of a metaphorical connection with the world as a market-place where sometimes we shop things, emotions, moments, and people for real, while at other times we just go window-shopping coming back home empty-handed.
Visually, (taking the V.S.Naipaul kind of description in his India Trilogy) these streets in the bazaars of India are full of dirt, stench, betel-spittle, crowd and smoke. These gullies appear like breathing, yawning, salivating human-beings who survive in what the rich and the famous would call ‘mediocrity’. The bazaars (sometimes called haat) are the hubs of cheaper, affordable, and sustainable products. Yet, they are the most living and throbbing places in India.
A brief anecdote, as Undergraduate students we used to have one day in every six months for ‘hostel duty’ where we were supposed to accompany the caretaker to the daily-haat in Bhubaneswar (famously known as 1 Number Haat). Those days, I dreaded the thought of even going to the haat to buy vegetables and groceries for the entire hostel. The heat, dust, and sweat of these market-places drove me crazy and even if it was 8 o clock of a winter evening, I would come back and take a thorough shower. Looking back into those times, I regret missing many chances of understanding the beauty of the daily market place, perhaps due to my ‘elite’ sentiments. I am not sure if personally I have overcome this distance from the daily markets, but have definitely become more perceptive towards the aesthetic charm of these markets.
The bazaars in India appear to reflect the avarice which is an integral part of human personality but which we human beings continuously try to push into the unconscious or perhaps pretend that it is not there in our personalities. They reflect the hunger for ‘more’ kind of a sentiment. You can try visiting the markets and feel the need for buying what is completely, purely needless.
To be a nature-lover, searching for pockets that are ‘far from the madding crowd’, silent, and calm have been the passion of many. However, of late I have been observing the joy of the street-side, the openness of the markets, the secret sense of independence that you get when you are bargaining and arguing for small, insignificant ‘nothings’ and then the pride of grabbing what you might think to be impossible in the scheme of your shopping. The madness of the crowd and the noise of the market-place often make the toughest person crack into anarchy, and also might drive the strictest ascetic to insanity. Try venturing out into the heart of old cities: Hyderabad, Mumbai (Dadar area, Hindmata Market), old Bhubaneswar, Ahmedabad, etc. during the day in the peak summers. You will understand what am I trying to talk of — no less than any adventure sport. However, a word of caution — do carry your water bottles if you try something of the kind.
There is an air of austerity, a moment of ‘sacredness’ about shopping in the malls which are ‘cleaner’, ‘hygienic’ and ‘sophisticated’ means of realizing your need for buying things (many of which you perhaps hardly need during this life time). Bazaars on the other hand are a carnival of absolute absurdity — raw, ‘brainless’ and completely ‘anarchic’. You have to shout and argue to finalize your deal here while in a shopping complex or in a mall, there is no question of any bargain. I have been thinking of the movie Confessions of a Shopaholic where brands and ‘smooth shopping’ lead to the debacle of a young shopaholic. Find that there is something ‘profane’ in the absolute sacredness of the malls. The profanity of the bazaars on the other hand is open, unrestrained, and taboo-less.
The language of the market places are different in India. The vernaculars and dialects rule Indian bazaars. Each bazaar in every state of India is unique and different from the other bazaar — yet there are some common threads. Possibly, this is the only place where one would find communal harmony. Interestingly, here we would see a Muslim selling mithais to a Hindu, or a Sindhi selling textiles to a Bengali. I am often amazed by the kind of ‘harmony’ that economic interdependence could bring among people. One might argue that this harmony observed in bazaars is ‘cosmetic’ and one tiny spark in terms of communal differences could lead to a massive riot killing many.
I had once read an interesting take by Amitav Ghosh in one of his novels about the predicament small shops in the market places of communally troubled zones. There is a moment in The Shadow Lines where Ghosh describes the Khulna riots and the Dhaka turbulence. This moment reflects the menacing calmness of the bazaars before a riot breaks out. In the novel that moment leads to the death of an ailing, poor old man. No denying that market places are the breeding grounds of communal tension, yet these are also the places where communities survive without strife, based on peaceful coexistence.
Bazaar is also a term that has perhaps some of the most ambiguous and controversial implications. In Bollywood movies, the term bazaar is used to signify the red-light areas of cities where human trafficking, and flesh-trade is practiced within the heart of ‘ethical’ grounds of orthodox social structures. There is a 1982 movie which comes to mind with Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah, Supriya Pathak, and Farooq Sheikh in lead. The movie is itself called Bazaar and it reflects the absolute ‘stubborn’, unchangeable structures of Indian societywhich is more inhuman rather than anything else.
The purpose of my thought in this article has been to highlight some of the uncommon aspects of a perfectly common arena like a market-place. Bazaars are colourful and vibrant in India. Yet, they are also places which have a silent menace, a hidden notoriety either in the form of eve-teasing, or else in the form of communal upheavals, or prostitution. But is not life designed the same ways: a combination of black, red, white, and grey shades?
Think about it and share your marketplace experiences 🙂 ….
Goodmorning and do take care of yourselves until we meet again sometime in the timeline….