Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bazaar Tour 3 : Varkala, Kerala

This post is a part of the series on Bazaar Tours in India. For those travelling to Varkala, in Kerala, soaking in the experiences at the Cliff Bazaar overlooking the sea makes up a large part of one's stay at Varkala. You can walk along the cliff in the morning and lounge at a breakfast cafe, you can meander into its many craft shops in the afternoon and you can stroll there in the evening again and leave only after a sumptuous dinner.

If Varkala were to have a daily tabloid – a newspaper for only its Cliff Bazaar visitors, what would it say to its readers? "The Varkala of Tourist Times" would need to carry news about the beach – the groups that conducted yoga that day, the fishermen and the catch of the day! It would be nice to sit at a CafĂ©, buy the Cliff daily and read about the happenings of the day. Who baked the best bread? Which restaurant bought the best catch from what fishermen? How many people attended the Kathakali dance performance – a daily event on the cliff during the “season”. Who won the beach volleyball match? The real estate market in Varkala Cliff zone. The Kashmiri takeover on the Tibetan market and so on.

For this newspaper to be viable, it would need to carry advertisements. So, there would be half-page and full-page ads from restaurants, from Arts emporia and from Massage Centers. That brings us to the question : What does an advertisment do and what does signage do?

Advertisements today are in our newspapers, our magazines, our televisions and on our hoardings. Signage takes two forms or rather two locations. It is immediately next to where the commodity or service is, asserting its presence and it is sometimes and often at an important junction elsewhere, with an arrow leading us to its actual place of existence. The shops at the Bazaar would then begin to offer discounts. The newspaper would carry ads announcing festival discounts and season discounts. It would be an unusual and exciting daily - a newspaper of the town, of the tourists and of the bazaar.

I came back from Varkala and what came back with me were memories of the lovely moments with Puppu, a Tibetan woman at the Cliff Bazaar, at whose shop I had spent a part of my afternoon. You can read here about the Tibetan market at Varkala

Other Varkala posts :
Signage in Cliff Bazaar
Once upon a time, there were no signs
Signages at Varkala, Signages anywhere
To the Cliff
Cafe Italiano & the Badam tree

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

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bazaar Tour 2 : Antiques Mumbai

In India, when you travel to small towns, many traditional houses have antique furniture, brass items, paintings and artefacts that would fetch a high price at an antique market. These are family heirlooms and seem most appropriate within the houses where they belong. Often, a conversation with an older member of the family brings out a story of the wooden chest which goes back to three generations or more. Here, the number of years matter less and the number of generations matter so much more. The characters in the story have lived in this very house and sat in the same stone-floored verandah where you chat now with the old lady who is head of the household.

The experience of being in an antique market in the city of Bombay is completely different. I plan to visit the Chor Bazaar (literally translated as Thieves market) in Bombay. It is a central part of old Bombay and there are many buses from all over Bombay that can take you there. It is in the vicinity of Bhendi Bazaar. You can also get there by train from Masjid Road station, on the Central Railway line or Sandhurst Road station. On the Western Railway line, you can go upto Grant Road station and take a bus or a taxi from there.

As I chat with Imran, one of the antique dealers on Mutton street, he points out that the name ‘chor bazaar’ is actually from ‘shor bazaar’. Shor is the Hindi word for noise and he believes that the bazaar got its name from the noisy auctions of textile and wood that this area was known for. He says that these auctions continue to happen even today, but they are fewer compared to the past. Most antique dealers have warehouses where they are able to store much of their merchandise and wait until they are able to sell directly to clients. There is now also an export market and many dealers have a network that brings more business from high-end clients, who may never have physically come to chor bazaar. The outlet in Chor bazaar is only a very small part in the big money business. Imran’s own shop ‘Art Centre’ sells colonial and antique furniture and chandeliers. He is at shop no.13 on Mutton street and can be reached on 022-2347 4834

Imran continues to talk about the auctions. They are meant only for the dealers from Bombay. This auction market is not open to anyone else, although it is an auction that is held in the open marketplace. Within the shops here at Chor bazaar, you may often find a piece that has been acquired through an exchange with an antique dealer in Bangalore or Delhi. A growing antique market other than Bombay and Delhi is now in the cities of Jaipur and Jodhpur in Rajasthan. There are some beautifully polished pieces of Teakwood and Rosewood furniture in Imran’s shop that are not too ornate and would look elegant in a contemporary Indian home.

At another shop in Chor Bazaar – Mughal Art Gallery, there is a large collection of old wrist watches, pocket watches, clocks and nauticals. The owner, Rashid explains that he is in the third generation that runs this shop. He says that it is possible to service a watch if a customer insists on a working piece. However, a true collector would want an old watch without it being serviced so that all its original parts are intact and its value as an antique is high.

Rashid says that many of his special customers and regular buyers like Bollywood stars come to his shop at ten in the night. Chor Bazaar closes at 9pm and there is quiet and privacy at ten that allows a film star or his family member to visit and choose what they like for themselves. Rashid can be reached at or 022-2345 4718. Within the Chor Bazaar or Antique market is the Bazaar for Bollywood posters, which I hope to put up as a blogpost soon!

Mutton street is lined with many other antique shops other than the ones I mention here. There is much to explore when you are here.

Other Bazaar Tours in Indiaa :
Bazaar Tour 1 : Dadar Flower market, Mumbai
Bazaar Tour 3 : Varkala, Kerala
Bazaar Tour 4 : Gandhi Bazaar, Bangalore

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bazaar Tour 1 : Dadar Flower market, Mumbai

This is the first part of a series on Bazaar Tours in India - some Bazaars that you may want to explore on your own. I relate here how it was for us to visit a bazaar in Mumbai.

We set out on a Sunday morning to visit the Dadar flower market. It is Bombay's largest wholesale flower market. We were staying at Colaba. So, we walked to Churchgate station, going past the early morning cricket players at the maidan. At the station, we asked for two tickets "Dadar return" since we wanted to head back to Churchgate also by train. At 6.45am, the train was almost empty. Dadar is the stop just after Elphinstone road on the Western Railway line. If you are travelling from V.T.station (or CST, as it is now called) you need to be ready to get off the train after Parel station has gone past.

On reaching Dadar station, we looked around to see where most people were going - it is usually a good way to know where the exit to the main road is. We didnot have to take the overbridge since the train had stopped at Platform no.1. As soon as we came out of the station, we were inside the flower bazaar - flowers on either side, marigolds in bamboo baskets, there were flower sellers all over the place!

I had travelled to Dadar station many times in all the years that I had studied there, but had never seen it at this hour in the morning. There was commotion, there was colour, there was filth and yet there was fragrance! You enter the underside of the flyover and there was brisk business there already. If we stopped for a few minutes, we were asked to move aside since we were blocking the visibility of some of the women who were selling flowers. There was a small shop that sold only satin ribbons, thread, cellophane paper, etc. in wholesale for florist shops.

Beyond we could see the yellow and black taxis being loaded with cut flowers. They would get loaded and leave immediately. These were on their way to florist shops in different parts of the city. They seemed to be the last taxis carrying flowers, making their departure from Dadar. Later, I bought a bunch of pink chrysanthemums for Rs.10! It was only a rupee each. The next day when I was at colaba, a florist was selling one chrysanthemum for Rs.10. A bunch of roses was selling at Rs.100. I had bought a bunch of roses for Rs.15 at the Dadar bazaar. Makes you wonder how long the chain of middlemen is and how much the farmer who grows the flowers gets for his efforts. How fair can trade be?

We walked along the flyover where there were more cut flowers - stalks of chrysanthemums, gladioli, carnations and so on. And, there were orchids too. The vendors mentioned that the main market was a 10 minute walk away. So, we headed southwards along the main road.

Started to notice trucks parked on the left side of the road and noticed a few vendors carrying loaded baskets on their heads and walking back towards the Dadar railway station. We were nearing the main market. We were surprised to see how big this bazaar was. It has 542 stalls and is a covered market of 13,000 sq.ft.area. Heaps of marigolds being sold.

We finally entered the Meenatai Thackeray Phool Bazaar or Flower market. You could buy a basketful measure of marigolds for Rs.20. Of course, the wholesale price. This bazaar opens at 4am everyday. So, its actually a good idea to get there early if you want to see truckloads of marigolds being emptied and distributed. The flowers come from Satara, Nagpur and other places. Its a 4-6 hour journey and the wholesalers are already at the market from midnight to be there when the flowers arrive. The market opens for the public at 4am.

It was one fun-filled morning for us. All the vendors wanted to pose for us as we took pictures. They thought we were from the Press. I told them we were not from the Press and that their pictures were not going to appear in the newspaper tomorrow. They simply shrugged, smiled and posed for another picture.

Other Bazaar Tours in India at :
Bazaar Tour 2 : Antique Market, Mumbai
Bazaar Tour 3 : Varkala, Kerala
Bazaar Tour 4 : Gandhi Bazaar, Bangalore

More on Dadar Flower market at:
and the article in The Hindu about the flower markets in Mumbai, Srinagar & Bangalore at