Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Ritual of Bargaining

“The rhetorical exchanges go on between shopkeepers and prospective customers in the bazaar every day. The shopkeeper usually talks to the other person like a member of the family, calling him or her brother, mother, father or uncle to suggest intimacy. By mentioning that the shop has been recommended by a mutual acquaintance, the prospective buyer intimates that he could become a regular customer.

If he moves on to specifics and asks the price, he is given a politely non-committal reply. The aim is purely to create a friendly atmosphere. It is only after long hesitation that the salesman names his price, which is invariably refused. In the meantime, he – an expert on human nature – has deduced the customer’s status from his name and accent, clothes and various remarks. He soothes the ‘indignant’ customer by saying that other people of the same calibre – which of course, he exaggerates flatteringly – have bought the same thing. For tourists, a pile of postcards from America or a visitor’s book with tributes from satisfied customers is always brought out at this point. When the deal is concluded, he emphasizes his own selflessness by protesting that he has made nothing or has even made a loss.

The customer’s aim is to establish a lasting contact with a reliable dealer, so that he can save time in future by avoiding lengthy negotiation. In Yemen, for example, they use gestures to prevent anyone else overhearing. Both hands are covered with a cloth. They communicate by moving their fingers, each finger symbolizing a number, and express refusal or agreement with their eyes. Iranian carpet dealers usually mention how much they have – allegedly – paid for an item, establishing a minimum price in advance.

Sometimes buyers send their wives to bargain, in the (usually justified) hope that gallantry will make the shopkeeper more generous. The time of day is important too. In the early afternoon, the shopkeeper’s enthusiasm for verbal sparring is blunted by the heat and often also by hashish or qat. But the best chance of a bargain is just before evening prayer. According to an old convention, the last customer has to be given a discount. Once a deal has finally been concluded, the shopkeeper still has one last trump card: he suggests that the customer might pay another time, indicating trust in his creditworthiness. It is a gesture that seldom fails”*.

*Weiss, Walter M. & Westermann, Kurt-Michael, The Bazaar : Markets and Merchants of the Islamic World, Thames & Hudson, 1998

Sunday, May 10, 2009

the Gateway & its small enterprises

At the Gateway of India in Mumbai simply watching who were the small vendors here. There was the man who sold you a picture of yourself in front of the famous Gateway of India, as soon as you ordered one.

The old man looking out for customers who wanted to buy bird feed, for the pigeons.

The ever-so-happy-go-lucky man selling warm, roasted peanuts that have always been nicer bought at the street corner than when bought in a packet at a supermarket.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Things Indian and Mauritian

You walk in a Bazaar in Mauritius and you can't help feeling you are in an Indian Bazaar.

Of course, suddenly, you see 'Le Maurice' on a hand-crafted shopping bag or posters that say 'Isle de France' or a picture of the Dodo pasted on a shop window and you are reminded that you are in Mauritius!

You read boards on shops such as 'Pooja ke Samaan' with the coconuts, the agarbattis and the brass lamps or the 'Wedding gallery' with the latest fashions in Indian sarees in the window displays.

And, then, you see the colourful skirts at a shop in the 'Grand Baie Bazar' and you recognise it to be the "Thing Mauritian" because you've pictures of Mauritian women with similar skirts dancing the Sega - the Mauritian dance and musical form introduced by the Africans who were brought to the Island during the French colonial period.

Its actually heart-warming to see the push-cart seller with coconuts and the pineapple, right here at the beautiful Grand Baie.

So, this is tropical Mauritius, a country off the South-east coast of Africa, to the east of the island of Madagascar, so far away from India.

You can bargain here just like in an Indian Bazaar. "I give you good price" is what you hear. These are Indo-Mauritians who form about 70% of the population of the island. Most of the Indo-Mauritians speak Creole. Many speak Hindi, Tamil and Bhojpuri.

As you approach a vendor, she first starts to speak to you in French or in Creole and then, as you start to reply in English, she says "I thought you were Mauritian, you from India, then?"

You still get very good price and you just stroll along on to the next shop, the colours of the Mauritian crafts reminding you of bazaars in India more than ever.

Related Posts:
Street Food in Mauritius
Mauritius Bazaars

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Photo Essay - Flower market in Madurai

Walking through a flower market almost anywhere in India is quite a fascinating experience.

There's sackfuls of flowers - the centre of all the trading activity between wholesalers and retailers.

You can buy them in kilos. They are picked up in handfuls and weighed in the most simple scales.

This flower market in Madurai is a relatively new construction, quite different in its ambience from a traditional flower market, which would often have a thatch or tiled roof and would invariably be in the centre of town. The old flower market which is now shut down was located close to the famous Meenakshi temple.

The loading and unloading of nature's bounty as people live their daily lives in prayer and in work.

The new brick and concrete construction offers spacious stall space and rooms for storage. The old market spaces had their own charm and organic planning.

I am including below a link to an article in the Times of India, June 24, 2012 on: Madurai flower market exploding in colours

Bazaar tours in India :
Bazaar Tour 1 : Dadar Flower Market, Mumbai
Bazaar Tour 2 : Antique market, Mumbai
Bazaar Tour 3 : Varkala, Kerala
Bazaar Tour 4 : Gandhi Bazaar, Bangalore

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

How "green" is our bazaar?

The only reason to ask the question 'How "green" is our Bazaar?' is that so many of us who have replaced the traditional bazaar in our lives with the contemporary mall and who shop once a week at the 'Fruits & Vegetables' sections of SPAR, or Reliance Mart or Food World, believe that we have little choice, since the old bazaars of the city are dirty, unhygienic and congested places.

The city's fruit and vegetable markets may not be today's ideal urban selling spaces but they have been environments that are more respectful of resource use and have also been patterns of development that have had sustainable characteristics. Therefore, we need to be more aware of how green the bazaar is and why. Simultaneously, we can start working on how to make it easier for the vendors or the municipal authorities to keep our bazaars cleaner and more hygienic.
Inside the Poorna Market at Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh

If we were to look for what is "green" in the Indian bazaar, this is what one observes :
1. Containers of the flowers being sold at Poorna market in Visakhapatnam are mostly bamboo baskets.
2. Shopping bags are still either cloth bags, recycled plastic bags and recycled rice jute bags
3. The roofing provided in an open marketplace to provide shade from the sun is often jute fabric.

It is not that plastic has not entered the market here. However, the people have not yet given up completely on using the cloth or the jute bag to shop for vegetables. At a city supermarket in India, it is less common to see the use of these bags because it is easier for the supermarket to pack and bind the commodities in their own plastic bags at the billing counters, to be checked once again by the security as you exit, in order to prevent pilferage.

The shelter for the vegetable stalls in many towns and cities in India are palmyra umbrellas. It is also common to see shelters made with casuarina poles and canvas sheets as at the Weekly market in Theni

As shown below, in our vegetable stalls, we have always used small bamboo baskets for choosing the vegetables we want to buy and handing them over to the vendor to have them weighed.

In the image below, this lady caters to the vendors in the bazaar, who buy large baskets for holding the produce for sale and the small baskets for customers to pick up their fruits and vegetables for purchase. When one looks at the different markets in small and large towns and cities, one finds that there are many livelihoods in a bazaar that depend upon one another and together make way for an ecological approach to living.

Of course, these are only the visible options that confirm that products and processes in our traditional bazaars have always sought environment-friendly solutions. We have yet to study how producing, transporting and consuming food can be responsible for climate change and for polluting our environment. For instance, buying directly from producers, as in the Rythu Bazaars of Andhra Pradesh may be a good way to source fresh, seasonal produce and reduce packaging. Making fewer shopping trips by car to the Supermarket may also help reduce congestion and local air pollution. We could avoid unnecessary or excessive packaging of fruits and vegetables and help reduce the waste we generate whilst shopping for our food.

Coming back to our need for a cleaner & more hygienic bazaar, a few days ago, i was outside the Russell Market, one of Bangalore's oldest fruit and vegetable markets. There was a truck from the Municipality that was loading the garbage to be taken away. It was parked in a side lane, just outside the side entrance to the market. This side lane seemed like a lane devoted entirely to the garbage of Russell market. The carting away of the waste from the market is done two times every day. The truck picks up garbage once at seven in the morning and a second time at two-thirty in the afternoon. This is taken away to a garbage dump yard at Devanahalli.

Some questions come to mind here :
How do we better the working conditions of the men who take away the garbage?
How can the process of moving the garbage from where it is disposed by the vendors to its place in the truck be improved so that there is less litter and a cleaner environment surrounds the market entrance and exits?
What happens to the garbage after it reaches the dump yard at Devanahalli? Is the organic waste from the bazaars of Bangalore being converted into vermicompost?

In the summer, when the mangoes arrive into the city, they are unloaded for sale in the wholesale and retail markets.
After the unloading of the mangoes has been done, the truck leaves the market and the hay remains there much longer than it should. It is in these minor details of the day-to-day functioning of the bazaar, where interventions by the municipal authorities to enforce cleanliness would be useful.

This flower market at Georgetown in Chennai is a typical example of a a street bazaar in South India. It may be true that our fruit, vegetable and flower markets are often unclean, unhygienic and crowded places compared to a SPAR or a Reliance Mart outlet. We could work towards understanding the sanitation regulations, the drainage systems, the increasing vehicular traffic and the need for parking facilities. Supposing we study Food World or SPAR's efficient back-end operations and see how much of it we can use in our bazaars, maybe we can improve upon them a bit?

I welcome all thoughts/comments on how our bazaars could be made cleaner and more hygienic.

p.s. At the Hampi Conservation Conference early this year, an observation by a Dutch photographer who is a resident of Hampi : "India has a real problem about garbage. Maybe it has perhaps something to do with the caste system, where people think low of someone who thinks about garbage or would do something about garbage".

Read about :
Dadar Flower Market, Mumbai
Fish market at Sasoon docks
The Informal Economy and Urban space
Gandhi Bazaar, Bangalore

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rythu Bazaar

Rythu bazaar or Farmer's market is a concept that was developed in the late 90's and implemented in the 23 districts of Andhra Pradesh by the then Chief Minister, Chandrababu Naidu. The inspiration came from the Apni Mandi, a similar experiment in Punjab.

The project was initiated to :
1. Eliminate middlemen
2. Bring more profits to the farmers
3. Make vegetables cheaper for the consumer
4. Make available fresh vegetables to the public
The entrance to the Rythu bazaar at M.V.P.Colony in Visakhapatnam

The bus that brought the farmers from their homes in the nearby villages to Visakhapatnam and took them back in the evening

The dustbins at the Rythu bazaars. Other than the fruits and vegetables sold here, the government had also allocated a few stalls within each Rythu bazaar for Dairy products and for home-made Pickles

The stalls were constructed in Brick and Cement plaster for side walls with an asbestos cement sheet for roofing

The mandate was as follows :
  • Physical markets to be created close to the areas of consumption
  • Actual growers to be identified and requested to bring their produce
  • Land to be made available for the Rythu bazaars in towns and cities with A.P.State
  • Permanent infrastructure with support systems to be constructed
  • Farmers with identity cards only to be permitted to sell
  • Special buses to pick up the farmers from their villages to be arranged
  • Storage facilities to be made available
  • Co-ordination to be encouraged between revenue, marketing and horticulture departments to ensure smooth functioning
  • Additional essential commodities like pulses and edible oils to be sold at controlled prices
The prices of the vegetables would be written out every morning on this Blackboard that occupied a prominent place at the entrance to the Bazaar

On one side of the Bazaar were the offices of the "Estate Officer" who addressed the needs of both vendors and the customers

Here is a link to an article by The Hindu Business Line, on AP Rythu Bazaars : a success with vast scope, Jan 08, 2004

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Indian Bazaars Review - Feb 2009

"These paper boats of mine are meant to dance on the ripples of hours,
and not to reach any destination"

- Rabindranath Tagore

This blog has been primarily about markets from South India - the Street bazaars and Vegetable bazaars in the cities of Visakhapatnam and Chennai and within a few towns in Kerala. Craft and Spice Bazaars of rural India have often fascinated tourists from the western countries. However, I have been writing mostly about the simple selling spaces in urban India that people frequent for their day-to-day needs - whether it is vegetables, or flowers, or clothes or puja items. It is only because these are the bazaars I see more often. More recently, I have also started to observe and write about the contemporary malls in India.

The reason that the blog has more questions than answers is that the spontaneity of the bazaar environment, its response to the changing seasons or festivals and its ability to exude charm amidst chaos, threw up so many questions in my mind.

I do hope to be able to put down the answers to at least some of the questions that i have asked. And, I would be delighted if Readers helped with the answers and we worked along this together. So, please do add your comments!!

The more I look at these bazaars, the more I see a simultaneous complexity and commonality embedded within them. In so many places, there are the colourful flowers entering the market with every break of dawn; the flower vendor spaces are inextricably woven with the vegetable vendor spaces, street corners become either a confluence of both or the receding of one; there is the emergence of an entire streetful of kite makers a month before Sankranti or the rising crescendo of firecracker sales as diwali draws near. The layout of the bazaars have similarities in their spatial clustering and in their randomness. The efficiency of the market system depends often on the same issues. The decline of the bazaar and its replacement by modern shopping spaces shows the same patterns.

To sum up the nature of bazaar thoughts & experiences thus far, there was Bazaars - a beginning; few posts about Art is a way of Life in an Indian bazaar; a bazaar in Alleppey in Kerala where there is a relationship between the canal and the bazaar; the fish bazaar at Murud Janjira; the Signages at the Cliff Bazaar at Varkala beach and lastly, the increasing number of malls in the country.

More recently, i have begun to study the Russell market in Bangalore - its history, the vendors, the parking options for visitors, the garbage disposal, the Shivaji Nagar bus stand nearby and its relation to the market and eventually, what will bring about the revitalisation of Russell Market.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Urban structure – City Market and Russell Market

To begin a thought process on the regeneration of the Russell Market heritage precinct, i look at the history of the market and the history of its neighbourhood. Today, it is also possible for us to easily access a map of the area using Google Earth. One notices in the image included below that the red spot, which represents Russell market is at the centre of a dense urban fabric of old bangalore. There are several main roads that radially converge to the Market Square. This so emphatically confirms the importance of this area in the way the city grew.

The picture shown above is of the Russell Market Square in ShivajiNagar, Bangalore. The photograph was taken in February 2009

V.L.S.Prakasa Rao & Vinod K.Tewari describe the development of the City Market and the Russell Market in ‘The Ecological Structure of Bangalore City’*

"The Fort near the City Market on the west, and the Barracks near the Ulsoor Tank on the east, were the two foundations of Bangalore City. The two kernels of the city, situated only 4 miles apart, were founded with a time-lag of more than two and a half centuries-the Fort built in 1537 and the British Garrison and Barracks established in 1809. The neighbourhood of the Fort and the neighbourhood of the Ulsoor Tank developed under two different raisons d’etre. The defensive strong point apart, the Fort city was oriented to the philosophy of a city and temple builder, an agriculturist turned warrior, under whose patronage developed a township of wholesale and retail traders, and of highly skilled artisans particularly families of cotton weavers (Hasan 1970, Rao 1930)

In contrast to this, the neighbourhood of the Ulsoor Tank was developed to cater to the requirements of the British troops and British officers who were pulled out of Srirangapatnam and settled near the tank. Thus, a military cantonment developed along with a civilian settlement of mainly retail traders and service classes adjoining the Ulsoor village. While the Fort neighbourhood developed as a typical native town with its bazaar, traders and artisans, the Ulsoor neighbourhood developed as a cantonment with its artillery and cavalry barracks, parade ground, infantry road, the Mall, fine and spacious bungalows, bars and night clubs.

Both the nuclei expanded; the Fort neighbourhood expanded east, north and south, and the Ulsoor neighbourhood expanded west, north and south, invading the open spaces and fertile agricultural lands. With the development of the Russell market and westward expansion of the cantonment, the nucleus of the west shifted to Russell market locality, while the development of the City market near the Fort contributed to further intensification of the growing nucleus of the west. The east-west zonation certainly had its intermixing and integrating social-cultural elements in the two nuclei : temples, churches and mosques near both the City market and the Russell Market. Even the street names such as Dharmaraya Koil Street and Meenakshi Koil Street in the predominantly Muslim and Christian areas near the Russell Market, and Sultanpet near the City Market, a predominantly Hindu area, only echo the co-existence of the different religious communities."

One finds a similar pattern of urban development in Georgetown, an old historic settlement in Madras, now Chennai. There is the Fort St.George nearby whose establishment soon generated a neighbourhood of retail traders and also artisans who initially came to Madras on short visits and later settled here to support the growing town. The history of Indian city centers seems to reflect a marked connection between artisan settlements, a central market and a religious establishment, and going back a little further, a connection perhaps to a nearby fortified British settlement or Fort, that the artisans, the local traders and the priest community initially served.

The above picture shows a typical street in Georgetown, the photograph was taken in January 2008

*Tewari, Vinod K., Indian Cities-Ecological Perspectives, Concept Publishing Company, New Delhi, 1986

Related Posts :
What is Russell Market
How Green is my Bazaar
Marketplaces and Tourism
The Informal Economy and Urban space

Monday, February 16, 2009

what is Russell market?

There is more than just a building that makes up the 'Russell Market' environment. There is the "market square" which is the large open space and a meeting point of roads. There is the St.Mary's Basilica and the Richard's square along the same road.

My first visit to the Russell Market was the 'Heritage walk' organised here by INTACH - a non-profit organisation - the Indian National Trust for Architectural and Cultural Heritage. Deepa Mohan describes the walk in her article for Citizen Matters : ShivajiNagar Reintroduced

Related Posts :
How Green is my Bazaar
Marketplaces and Tourism
Urban Structure: City Market and Russell Market
The Informal Economy and Urban space

Monday, January 05, 2009

a Mall for home interiors

The Future group's "Hometown" is a mall for home interiors. It is now already in seven cities including Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Calcutta. The Hometown in Bangalore is in Marathahalli on the outer ring road. This is also where @Home and other furniture and interior showrooms are located. This is meant to be a "one-stop shop" for home interior.

The ground floor has several options for living room furniture. The upper floors offer options for bathrooms & kitchens. There is a 'Design & Services' Centre with four architects, four engineers and two managers, a team that offers interior design solutions to its customers.

There are three packages one can opt for. There is the Turn-key option that includes design and implementation for the interior of the entire apartment or house, where the design fee is Rs.35/sq.ft and the design & execution may be charged at Rs.600 to Rs.1200 per sq.ft. There is the Segmental option, which consists of plan alternatives and ideas for the design of a room at Rs.2999. There is the third Customised option, which may include the design of just a wardrobe for a bedroom.

This mall for home solutions also includes a small exhibition on the various aspects of house building from the foundation stage to the finishing stage. There is information made available on a Mobile Concrete Lab to assess the suitability of materials at site and suggestions for mortar, waterproofing and other mixtures that the construction needs.

How is 'Hometown' different from a Kajaria showroom for bathrooms or a Venetia Cucine showroom for kitchens. It does offer both in one location but does not match up to independent showrooms on its customer service. And, in terms of the services it offers in plumbing, electrical and carpentry, how is 'Hometown' different? The Mr.Plumber, Mr.Carpenter and Mr.Tilewala boards within the mall do look attractive. However, all services are offered within the 'design centre' on the second floor and comprise of an interior design solution or a turnkey interior service.

The social networks of building artisans have been quite strong in towns and cities. It is a system that depends on the 'word of mouth' phenomenon. Will the old system and the new one continue to run parallel to each other?

Read about:
Citi Centre: the Mall in Chennai
Miracle Boutique
Things Indian and Mauritian
Forum Mall at Bangalore