Thursday, December 30, 2010

Faces in the Bazaar

There are cherished memories of listening to Dashrath Patel whenever he talked about the world that he discovered every day through the photography, the collages and the design experiments that his life was filled with. When he spoke, he described what his mind’s eye saw and it was this beautiful sharing that I am grateful for as I remember him today.

These are just some more pictures from the Kadlekai Parishe at Basavanagudi ...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Marketplaces for Tourism

Sketch plan of existing Russell market precinct

It may be a good time for us to revitalise our traditional bazaars by developing a few bazaar zones as tourist destinations. In order for us to do this, we need to ask ourselves : How does one deploy cultural heritage as a marketing strategy for tourism and retail sectors just so that it heightens the sense of pride in traditional values? What will be the guidelines and incentives for land-owners to refurbish their shops in a bazaar? How can we conceptualise and implement a revitalisation plan of a bazaar that benefits all the stakeholders? What are the views of the tourists, residents, local visitors and the merchants who belong to the bazaar?

In Amsterdam, tourism is so much a part of the market. There are dutch souvenirs everywhere. There are Tulip bulbs packed in delft blue and wooden tulips on sale for tourists. Flower markets in India are primarily for the domestic market. International tourists visiting India do often visit our flower markets, but the markets are not designed to serve them as tourists.

In the Indian flower market, most of the flowers are loose flowers sold in kilos for temple offerings or garlands for wedding ceremonies, garlands for funerals and garlands for political events!

In Amsterdam, the architecture, the canals, the dutch bicycles and the tulips make an interesting tour for anyone who loves the bazaar.

This blogpost is part of an article I wrote that was recently published in Architecture+Design - an Indian journal of architecture. To READ MORE refer to the A+D Vol XXVII no. 12 December 2010 issue

Related Posts :
What is Russell Market
How Green is my Bazaar

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Groundnut Fair in Bangalore city

When we first moved to Bangalore three years ago, we were quite awed by the malls and the glass facade IT buildings lining the road where we lived. We made up our minds not to like the city. This was not a place for us. But, we had to continue to live here. As time passed, we discovered the old, charming parts of the "booming metropolis". It had remnants of what we knew Bangalore once was "the garden city" in South India. There have been small and beautiful places and happenings within the city that have unveiled themselves gradually and finally made us feel like this is a city we like!

This week, I read in the news : “On the last Monday of Karthikamasa (a month in the Hindu Lunar calendar), the traditional Kadlekai Parishe, a two-day annual groundnut (peanut) fair will begin at Basavanagudi (Bull Temple road) and Groundnut growers from many neighbouring towns will be here”

Every year over 200 vendors come to the city of Bangalore offering for sale tonnes of groundnuts and other products such as puffed rice, colourful toys and so on. The entire stretch of Bull Temple road is pedestrianised for these two days, vehicular traffic is reorganised and security arrangements are made for the evenings as the excitement of the fair attracts visitors from all over. 

I change my plans for the day and I’m at the Gandhi Bazaar by the afternoon. It is at the Ramakrishna Math circle that the fair starts. I begin to walk…

I couldn't believe that this was all happening in the heart of Bangalore city... a tradition that had to continue no matter how much the city contemporarised itself.

Read about: 
Peanut festival in Bangalore
Udaipur City
Art in Urban Spaces
Fish market Mumbai

This post is part of the blog carnival 'Carnival of Cities' hosted at Sophie's World. - a carnival about cities from around the world. Do check it out!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bollywood posters

If you enjoy exploring the Bazaars in India, there is an antique market in Bombay with shops that sell posters from Bollywood movies. This can be an exciting way to spend an afternoon in Bombay. ‘Bollywood Bazaar’ is the name of a shop on Mutton street at Chor Bazaar in Mumbai that sells Bollywood posters and other Film memorablia from Hindi films. It has been a shop in this antique market since the last 65 years. It was in the ‘80’s that Shahid Mansoori first began to keep his own personal collection of film memorablia in his father’s shop here.

For Shahid, this was a passion and his sources were Cinema halls that were closing down, offices of distributors and private collectors. There are about forty people all over India who help him source the material. In the early days, few people took interest in buying old film posters. Today, Shahid sells in India as well as abroad. Every year, his collection is displayed at a private exhibition in Paris which is organised in collaboration with a French art dealer.

Posters can cost from Rs.50 to Rs.5000, depending on whether it is an original first print or a 2nd or 3rd print. In the old days, these were only hand-painted posters. Shahid also has some of these rare hand-painted ones in his collection. He has gathered also the booklets with song lyrics from films which were usually made available to the public after the release of a new Hindi film.

The original shop that belonged to the family was called ‘Mini market’. Later, Shahid Mansoori purchased two more shops on the same street. One of them is ‘Bollywood Bazaar’ which hires out film memorablia like posters, records and photographs and is managed by Shahid’s son Wahid.

The second shop is called ‘Super Sale’. It is managed by Sajid, his second son and caters primarily to a foreign market. They also have a warehouse that stocks more material which is often used in their ‘Film and T.V. serials’ decoration assignments. Sajid mentions that the two books that I might find useful are ‘Living Pictures’ by David Blamey and ‘Bollywood Posters’ by Sheena Sippy.

If one is a lover of Bollywood films and memorablia, Shahid Mansoori offers to relate tales of how some of the posters and photo stills of Hindi film actors and actresses found their way to his shop. In an antique bazaar and to an antique lover, it is perhaps these tales that are so much what he seeks. If you were to take a ‘Bollywood Bazaar tour’ it would center around these shops called the ‘Mini-market’ and ‘Bollywood Bazaar’ at this corner junction of Mutton street and its focal point would be Shahid Mansoori. It is a journey through time and a fun-filled one!

You can write to them at or call them on 91-22-23472427. They are closed on Fridays. 

Other 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

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Festival of Lights

It was Diwali last week and bazaars all over the city of Bangalore and everywhere in the country were “places” to experience the sanctity and joy that comes with this festival of lights. In a simple way, place means ‘character’ of a space. This is a term that needs to be understood since the design of architecture and city planning are based on experiential learning. As I now write this blogpost about a walk in the bazaar during the Festival of Lights, I think about the meaning of place and its relevance to an understanding of the Indian bazaar.

There are shrines and temples on the way to Gandhi Bazaar that are beautifully decorated with lights of different colour. The pushcart vendor and his business thrive in the shared light and shared festivity. 

Christian Norberg-Schulz mentions George Trakl’s poem Winter evening in his writings on the phenomenology of place. He says it is more than a point in the calendar. In our own context, we try to analyse this. Winter evening – it tells you that it is winter, it tells you that it is evening. Winter evening has two attributes – winter and evening. It conjures images of cold weather, dull and husky air, a sky that has less light than otherwise. Whereas winter is related to time of the year, evening is related to time of day. There is a small phenomenon embedded within a larger phenomenon. Within a city, different places have different numbers of attributes that define its character. Here again, some perceive all the attributes and create their definition of the character of the space. Others perceive a few of the attributes which make up for them another character of the space or the sense of place.

The Plaintain leaves that are being offered for sale on D.V.G. Road at Gandhi Bazaar become the decoration for the footpath as shoppers turn the corner, some to stop and buy the leaves for this auspicious time of the year, others to move onto the street beyond. 

Place is always more than the spaces we design. A place may have collective memory. Its character may be defined from what people remember about their experiences of or within that space. Each person in a city has a set of memories. These add up to make a place what it is. What Gandhi Bazaar is as a place could be defined by the collective memory of the many generations who have lived in Bangalore. 

The streets are made more beautiful by the lights that are up for sale and also the lights that the shopowners have jointly organised making the entry to the shopping experience more special.

Sometimes, an event also has a collective memory. For example, the collective memory of the Commonwealth Games 2010 would comprise of what took place before the start of the games and towards the preparation of it. It could also be the winning of medals from the Indian players. For an event of this nature, the collective memory of the place would necessarily need to be built up from people who are not only living near the stadium, or living in Delhi but people from all over the country. Similarly, the festival of lights builds up memories of the Gandhi Bazaar in our minds in many different ways. 

As years pass by, the Diwali festival is celebrated with new kinds of paper lantern designs coming out each year. The clay diyas or lamps continue to be sold year after year.

If one were to explore the idea of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ - what are the inside and outside spaces in the context of a city? I may enter Bangalore from its outside, from another town, from a highway. I am now inside Bangalore city. In the past, a settlement had sometimes a fort and the walls of the fort determined the inside and the outside. A wall is the element that creates often the inside and the outside, also in a house. It creates an enclosure. What kind of enclosures do we have within our cities? The wall or the boundary. In a house, the wall is the boundary. In a city, the boundary may not be a visual barrier. The boundary may be a river, for example. In Benares, there is river, there are the ghats and there is the town. The ghats are not just a “series of steps’. There is a character, a sense of place. It has also collective memory.

There is a gentle rain and shoppers take shelter for a while. Soon the bazaar is alive again with some choosing paper lanterns and others gathering at the Granthige stores to choose what they need for the puja at home.

If you visit D.V.G.Road in the Gandhi Bazaar area during Diwali time, there is also an inside and an outside. One of the streets is covered with arches of lights, there are festoons and lanterns for sale, there are kiosks of popcorn, there is the loudspeaker announcing offers for discount sales. There is a note of welcome in the air as you step into the “inside” of the festive bazaar street with its arched lights. In India, with each festival season, urban spaces take on a different character. In the Bazaar, a sense of place is created with its own meaning for each of us. 

Read about :
Mylapore Temple Bazaar, Chennai
Fish market, Mumbai
Gandhi Bazaar, Bangalore
An afternoon in Festive Dussehra

Thursday, October 28, 2010

a Street corner in Mumbai

The corner junction where Shaikh Memon street meets the Lohar Chawl lane in Mumbai is a stage setting for a play that happens here every day of the week. The play is enacted by actors who are street vendors. They walk from one end of the loosely defined and no-shape corner to another and then back again. They sell goods for real. You can buy a plastic tablecloth, a dancing doll, clips for your clothesline or a stuffed toy for your child.

When you first begin to notice the phenomenon, it seems like a play, but then, it isn’t. These are real vendors. The corner is crowded with pedestrians. There is a sea of faces in front of you, if you stand still in one place. In a few moments, the density of faces which almost seem like molecules moving rapidly changes. There are suddenly some empty pockets or voids. The picture is not so blurred anymore. Some people in that crowd are trying to get the attention of other passersby. These are the street vendors who have goods for sale. The voids get filled back again. But, you begin to recognise some faces since they keep coming back into your frame of vision or the stage, if one were to call it that.

You wish the vendors would wear colourful masks so you could spot them more easily. Later, as you view this amazing phenomenon from the upper storey of a nearby building, you realise that they are each carrying their goods in an identical blue bag which hangs from their shoulders with some of the goods being held in different ways either in one hand or both hands. It seems the word ‘person’ derives from the Greek word meaning mask or the role played by an actor in a dramatic performance. Maybe, they ARE wearing a mask. Masks allow one to pretend, don’t they? Here are vendors who are pretending they are just pedestrians, a face no different from the others, no identity revealed. If and when the police approach, the goods move from the hands to a large blue bag and now they are truly pedestrians only.

This is the story of livelihoods and the story of a changing city. The people of Mumbai find entrepreneurial opportunity literally at every corner. Actually, it is not every corner that is found suitable for business. Almost all the streets that are perpendicular to the Crawford market building are high density shopping areas. Some streets are exclusive zones for stationery items, some for textiles, some for light fittings and so on. This brings us to the issue of why this corner and not any other corner down that entire road. There is the Abdul Rehman street corner. This phenomenon did not take root there.

As I talk to one of the shopowners on Shaikh Memon street, I learn that this is the corner with the maximum footfalls. It is the meeting point of the Crawford market entrance, the Lokmanya Tilak road that connects Crawford market to Metro Cinema, the entry point for Lohar chawl (market for electrical & hardware goods) and the Shaikh Memon street that leads to the Jama masjid, to the Mulji Jetha wholesale textile market beyond the mosque and to the Zaveri Bazaar (Mumbai’s gold jewellery market) It is also at this junction that people get off the taxis to enter any of these shopping streets. This corner becomes the crossing of many paths and it is where street vendors can do the most profitable business.

This corner phenomenon is a Clustering of retail that is perhaps not so common. The street entrepreneurs or bazaar entrepreneurs make their choices about locations in unconventional ways. They seem to be very observant of the physical changes within the city, whether it is a widespread inner city core area or a single shopping street. It is not uncommon to find new retail shopping rhythyms merging with existing rhythyms and the gradual dependence of one over the other with the passage of time.

As in many Indian cities, the bazaar is the nucleus of the city. It has been the starting point of the commercial development of the city. Here, in Mumbai, Crawford market has been the central fruit and vegetable market. It has also been selling dryfruits and spices for several decades now. It was also a place where many people, especially the Anglo-Indians came to buy pets. It was a market that catered to western tourists who visited Bombay and to the affluent citizens residing in South Bombay.

Some of the owners of formal shops believe that the street vending brings vibrancy to the area. Without the street vendors, the Shaikh Memon-Lohar Chawl corner would not be as lively and attractive as it is now. The street vendors selling products at cheap prices are a crowd puller. Once people start frequenting these areas for their regular shopping, they also begin to visit the formal shops and the shopowners benefit from the impulse purchases that result.

Some time ago, due to a vigilant Municipal Commissioner, there were raids by the municipality twice a week. This went on for over 15 months. The street hawkers would vacate their places and their goods would often be confiscated. Their business suffered heavy losses. During this period, Shaikh Memon and the other streets here had almost no hawkers.

As per the Government regulations on Street vendors in Mumbai, this street has been declared as a ‘No Hawking zone’ and even today, it is a street where hawking is officially not permitted. However, business goes on as usual for the hawkers. They do pay hafta or an unofficial fee to the police regularly. According to the shopowers, they have a strong lobby and are a vote bank for the local MLAs who permit them to operate here.

With no investments to be made on renting a selling space and no overheads, the street vendors are able to offer the customer a good price on household and other goods and people continue to shop here in large numbers. The shopowner who has been sharing his insights with me has the corner shop that faces the “corner phenomenon”. He has been selling branded ready-to-wear garments, labels such as Scullers and Indigo Nation. This shop has been owned by the same family since 1926. During the pre-independence days, it sold dinner crockery and silverware. Later, it became a shop selling textiles and linen and is now in the readymade garment sector.

With real estate prices in South Mumbai being extremely high, more and more people are opting to find a place of residence in the northern suburbs. Although many of these people work in South Mumbai and commute daily to work, they prefer to return home immediately after work hours on the weekdays and shop at the shopping centers within their own local neighbourhoods. For shops in the Crawford market area, business has dwindled over the years. The owners of formal shops believe that if it were not for the street vending, business would have been even more bleak for them.

The banning of street vending does not seem to bring any tangible benefits to either the public or the shopowners at Shaikh Memon street. The road continues to be a ‘No Parking’ zone at such times. So, if the vendors are not here, it is not as if car parking becomes available and business can improve. If the vendors are here, business only gets better because of the large number of people who visit this street. As in a bazaar anywhere, bargaining in a street bazaar always attracts more customers and becomes the social phenomenon that people add to their shopping cart as they manoeuvre their lives in an evolving metropolis. 

Related posts:
Dadar Flower market
Fish market Mumbai
Bollywood posters

This post is part of the ‘Lonely Planet Blogsherpa Travel Carnival’ on the theme ‘Memorable City Experiences’ which is posted by Denise Pulis at her blog ‘Travel with Denden

Monday, October 18, 2010

an afternoon in festive Dussehra

It was the red, green and silver festoons glittering in the afternoon light that filled my first few moments at the Gandhi Bazaar in Bangalore. People were choosing their festoons and choosing their flowers. There was such an abundance of both on a street filled with people, with children. Everyone was out shopping for the Dussehra festival.

The festoons swayed this way and that in the gentle breeze. There were the voices I heard of people wanting this colour or that. I went closer to the shop front from across the road from where I had watched until now. There were more than five salesmen to this small shop. It was a day when business would be good and fast, as it was then. More hands were needed as the exchanges happened.

The festival of Dussehra celebrates the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana. It is the day when Rama (the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu) killed the great demon and king of Lanka, Ravana.
It is also on this day that the Warrior Goddess Durga defeated and killed the buffalo demon Mahishasura. There is fasting and there are rituals. People all over the country celebrate the victory of good over evil. The Bazaars of India are a place to experience during the ten-day celebrations that begin with Navarathri and culminate in Dussehra.

With each season and each festival as the year moves on, the bazaar takes on a different meaning. It is interesting to observe how the bazaar in Basavanagudi or bazaar anywhere transforms itself from one avatar to another through the year – for Sankranti or Pongal, for Ugadi or the Kannada new year, for the Varalakshmi puja, for Vinayak chavithi or the Ganesh festival, for the Dasera or Navarathri, for Diwali and so on. And, each festival brings with it a magnificent new collection of goods that bring people in large numbers to the bazaar.

In a Street bazaar, where there are no boundaries, it seems as if space for more vendors and more goods is always possible. However, it is not as democratic as it may appear. The vendors do guard the territories of their selling spaces. Mattias Kärrholm in his paper Territorial Complexity in Public Places defines 'Territoriality' as a spatially delimited control. He suggests that a territory is a bounded area characterised by a certain set of rules or some kind of regular behaviour.

In Gandhi bazaar, there is no clear demarcation between road and footpath. At some parts, the footpath is wider and in some parts, it is narrower. One looks for the EDGE – the distinction between where the street vendor belongs, where the pedestrian walks and where the vehicles drive and one finds it difficult to distinguish between what is road, footpath and urban selling space. Here, as I looked on, there were customers bending over the goods, making their careful selections, as they stood on the footpath. The Edge was along the middle line of the footpath, as it always is during a festival when the shop begins to step outwards to reach out and attract.

I was now looking at a “corner shop” which is one of the best locations a shop can have. The footpath curved around it and as the shop turned the corner, it attracted people from both the streets it sat upon. There was also another Granthige shop nearby on D.V.G.road and it had more than just the festoons. It had just about everything you would need for the puja.

One of the shopkeepers asked if I wanted to come in to take some more pictures. I could if I wanted to, he said. There was brisk sales taking place, there were little items displayed horizontally and vertically in as many possible ways, never enough space to show what there was to sell, there were unending queries from potential customers, there were the several salesmen behind the displays and someone in there had had the time to notice me with a camera and to extend an invitation to be part of it all and not leave without having seen everything there was to see or buy. There was both good salesmanship and goodheartedness in that gesture. It made me stay longer by the shop.

Every shop was brimming with activity. Each one had extended its limitless boundary to a new limit just for the festival week. I had noticed that there were a few policemen. I wondered why they were there. They were at least not policing the territory that was meant to be a public domain and had been usurped for private consumption. If the shopkeeper had extended his shop and if he sold goods that the public wanted so much to buy, his utilisation of the footpath space was justified, it seemed.

Bazaars have not been a part of the Master Plan for a city in India. There is within Urban Planning departments, a category called ‘Markets and Fairs’ which serves the shopping needs of inhabitants in an urban settlement. However, the physical implementation includes a few market buildings that are built and operated by the local municipal authorities. These do not adequately meet the needs of the public and is perhaps the reason why street vending easily finds customers.

I continued to walk onto the Gandhi Bazaar main road. There were so many garlands in any direction one looked. If it weren’t for the sound of the cars and the autorickshaws that bolted into one’s mind, one would have thought that on this day, you were alone on that street, standing in the midst of an art installation with flowers of many colours in that “art in public place” that had been created by flower sellers weaving strings of flowers to make every part of the bazaar that day into a place of visual and aromatic delight.

There was a slight change in the light and in the flow of the air around us and everyone sensed that it was about to rain. The vendors came out with their plastic sheets wherever water needed to be kept away. It started to drizzle and then pour. I stood aside watching the display of dasera dolls through what Bangaloreans call the four o’clock rain.

Read about :
Mylapore Temple Bazaar, Chennai
Fish market, Mumbai
Gandhi Bazaar, Bangalore