Have you ever been lost in a supermarket? I actually think many of us are getting lost – in supermarkets. Lost in the hustle and bustle of an “upmarket” (pun intended), urban, elite bubble, and forgetting a different kind of hustle and bustle – that of our local markets. Or not so local, maybe…
In such an age, these markets seem like an alternate economy, and one that is much more inclusive and open to all kinds of people. Bangalore may be called the Silicon city of India, but these markets are what is behind that silicon, so to speak. They have been around sustaining the people and economy for much longer. As a resident of Bangalore for the past 18 years (my whole life, basically), I was ashamed not to have visited many of the markets that old timers frequent, and any self-respecting Bangalorean has at least stepped into. So when I had to pick a theme for my travel project, I grabbed the opportunity. I wanted to explore these spaces that form the backbone of Bangalore – the friendly neighbourhood market (or not, as I saw).
Given such a background and intention, what better place to start than the famous Krishna Rajendra Market – or just ‘markettu’. Bangalore quite literally functions out of KR Market. Having looked up a Bangalore guidebook, and Google-chacha of course, for what to expect, I set off early on the morning of 10th October. The day of Ayudha Puja – Explain in one sentence at least as to what Ayudha Puja means and why it would be crowded on that day. Since it is going to be online, anyone could be reading your essay. A good day to see the vibrancy of the market, especially with flowers. Also a good day to get crushed to pulp by the crowd, as I nearly did. Market road at 7 am was chock-a-block, with many people already leaving with large sacks and push carts. The glimpse of Madivala market that I had caught on the way set the expectations and mood of festivity – with flowers and banana stems piled high. But that was nothing compared to the scene outside the market. Flowers of different types were piled, and hung from strings, along the entire 250 metre stretch to the market gate, with the different colours each standing out. The whole way when I was worming my way through the thick crowd, vendors’ voices in different languages surrounded me. This reminded me of the selective bubble again; many people living in Bangalore manage to get away with “kannada gothilla” (I don’t know kannada). But it is part of the alphabet of these shopkeepers’ business strategy to not only know a minimum of four languages, regardless of their origin, but to gauge the origins of their customers and communicate with them comfortably! Admittedly, regulars to such markets may see nothing remarkable, but for an outsider to this world, such experiences would be of great interest.
Flowers outside KR Market
Inside the main compound of KR Market were many rows of stalls – mostly fruits and vegetables, but also some dry fruits and flowers, and the odd “kumkum shop” that sold puja items. Some were open stalls with the vendors sitting on tarp sheets, and some had tarp roofs and tables. The main building mostly had more of these kumkum shops. The place was bustling, but by no means as crowded as the streets outside. Some vendors I spoke to had been there since 5 in the morning, some all night. As one of them pointed out, “market is always like this – full of people – even at midnight”. Many said that sales had only marginally increased because of the festival, because “people don’t celebrate as grandly, and with as much preparation, nowadays”, but the few individual customers that I spoke to all said they were here because of the habba (festival). Maybe most sales happen in bulk, and much earlier – it certainly looked like it. I didn’t dare ask more people about why they were there because I imagined they would just brandish their shopping bags at me with a quizzical look. My camera and questions had already made a few people murmur something along the lines of ‘news’, at which point I hastily explained that it was just a college project!. I suppose anyone without a large bag of purchases stands out in such a market.I then walked over to Avenue road (the next crossroad) – referred to in my guidebook as ‘shopper’s paradise’; well-known for the silk and other textile shops as well as jewellery shops there. Given this reputation, I was sceptical as to whether I should go or not. However, its reputation as a destination for old books (though text books) and stationery made me curious. Even 8 am seemed to be too early for this neighbour of the busy KR Market. I only saw the closed shutters and leisurely starts of multiple lanes of silk, textile, jewellery, books, and stationery shops – just as the book had said. The other roads surrounding this area, each known for different products and services, were all just stirring slowly – New Bamboo bazaar (for old wood), JC Road (for tools and machines), SP Road (for electronics) being some of these famous places. All of these I passed on my way back from the Market bus stand (another first time experience of a must-visit-if-you’re-a Bangalorean place). Two classic Bangalore spots? Check.
The next visit was on the next day, to a market in Ramachandrapuram (RC Puram) – fondly called Batte Bazaar (Cloth market). This leg of my project was enthusiastically co-opted by my mother and grandmother, so the three of us reached by auto early in the evening. The market is organized in a ‘#’ shaped grid. I tagged them as they walked up and down one street, and a few side gullies, and I also took some detours to explore and take photos. The shops were of so many kinds – those that sold slightly high quality cloth for “men’s shirt-pant” or fancy cloth by the metre, random cloth dumped in piles and sold by the kilo, export reject ready-made clothes, towels and sheets etc., as well as shops that sold every conceivable stitching-related item possible. There were small shops that hardly had any space, and large shops with a lot of room, shops that dumped cloth outside in piles, that stacked rolls inside, some that organized their cloth, some that left you to dive in, shops that said fixed-price but didn’t look it….you name it, basically. All of them were selling cloth at a price range varying from the ‘very reasonable’ to the ‘very cheap’. Shopkeepers were gracious and welcoming us to look around, offering to cut however much we needed and, and so on. Invitations to look around were extended in multiple languages. That’s the other interesting thing about markets like these. Most shops had houses between them, or on the floors above. The crowd started to increase a little later in the evening – mostly individuals buying for their personal use. Maybe bulk sales tended to happen in the morning, my mother observed, based on what she had seen on a previous visit. Also, the kind of stock available seemed different, according to her. Maybe it’s seasonal? Even though we bought a considerable amount, I know at least two customers who are going to go back next ‘season’…
The next stop was another classic – Russell Market, Shivajinagar. Known as a fruit-vegetable-flower-meat market, it is especially known for having exotic varieties of fruits and vegetables (as well as meats, but this was not of much interest personally). So I set off the following day in the morning with my mother, by metro. In some ways it was quite similar to KR Market – the open stalls outside, the archaic market building itself, with stalls inside, all on a smaller scale. The crowd was also on a smaller scale, thank goodness! Just as I had read, different parts were allocated to the different products. I had also read that early morning was a good time to go, but we managed to catch a few wholesale buyers when we went, as well as the fresh stock arriving. It is also frequented by individuals in the area buying their daily or weekly supplies, as well as some people like us, with a special eye out for the exotic varieties. Suffice to say Russell Market more than met this need. There were many varieties of fruits and veggies that I couldn’t identify, (and recognized by name only from Masterchef!); 10-15 new varieties each of fruits and vegetables, sourced from different places in India like Ooty, as well as imported. Dragonfruit, mangosteen, Chinese pears, Brussel sprouts, zucchini – these are just some of the new ones that stood out for me. The colours and neat piles stood out brightly, and it was a surprise to see broccoli and lettuce piled and dumped on tarp sheets like any old cauliflower and cabbage! They were all very happy to let me photograph their stalls. Though the prices were high for these varieties, they were MUCH lower than supermarket prices for the same, and the other daily fruits and vegetables were priced normally, a ‘market-price’. Here too the shopkeepers were very welcoming (and persuasive)- patiently explaining what their fancy things were, and telling us some things were “thumba (very) sweet”, “very good” etc., even offering to cut us samples. Their sales strategy was to add a personal touch, and it made the whole thing more an experience than just a transaction. Walking out with a bag of fruits and vegetables that I’ve never eaten before was a great feeling. The associations formed, especially when I ate them later, will mean a special connection to the market for this first-time visit.
Fruits and veggies at Russell Market
What’s a good travel story without a mix-up or mishap, right? Though my travel was within my own home city, I managed to deliver in that aspect as well. I managed to get lost in my city in a literal sense. On the way back, I stopped a bus with a proud pat on my back for having found an alternate route home after waiting for a while at the Shivajinagar bus stand. Turns out this bus was to the wrong Dasarahalli! The “alternate route” turned out to be a little too alternate for our liking. Cursing the bus, cursing whoever named multiple places with the same name, and cursing myself for not having checked, we changed buses at a later stop.
Though these visits felt like some sort of market marathon, I felt like if I had to do any kind of shopping marathon, this is the kind I would pick. Walking past rows of makeshift stalls piled high, traipsing through discarded products from those very stalls, even navigating the crowds… All this made me feel like I was part of some intimate world that formed the hidden foundation of the city, that anyone (anyone who needs things like vegetables and clothes, anyway) could be a part of. And I suddenly realised I had also utilised, quite coincidentally, all the forms of public transport available. It’s a nice feeling – feeling like a part of a large (but almost hidden, and certainly not advertised) system that is open to anyone and everyone.