Friday, December 23, 2011

The Informal Economy & Urban Space

In the marketplace, the intriguing part for me has been the creative ways that wholesale and retail vendors use as they conduct their business. They work in conditions where resources are not plentiful enough and optimum use must be made of whatever is available bringing down the price of the product to what is "affordable" and taking the profits to a daily income that is “reasonable”.

The urban selling space therefore borrows from the public spaces of the city where no price or a small price can reduce or eliminate the overheads related to rent/ownership of a space. Within this space, there are innovative ways that vendors use on an everyday basis to sell better - a balancing act - to meet the expectations of their customers (who's footpath they borrow), the formal shopowners (who's visibility they infringe upon), the municipal officials (who's planning regulations are not adhered to) and the Police (who's law and order situation is made more complex and therefore can result in an extra cost for the vendor).

This post is about the wholesale tomato market that takes place every day outside the Russell market building at Shivajinagar in Bangalore. It is about 6.30 in the morning and the time of the year is mid November. The stretch of road between the Russell market building and the St.Mary’s Basilica which is the site of the tomato market has groups of vendors, people moving from one group of vendors to another; there are auctions either just completed or on-going; there are several tempos and auto-rickshaws that are picking up the sacks of tomatoes that have been bought and need to be taken away from this site to its next destination in the chain of tomato supply for the city.

It is one of the sites where the Informal economy and the City hold their auctions for agricultural produce and for urban space. Here is where vendors and buyers negotiate a price for a daily commodity such as tomatoes and where vendors and municipal authorities negotiate a price for yet another daily commodity – the urban spaces of the city.

1  The Noronha road, the St.Mary’s Basilica, the Russell market and the rest of the city all come together – a piecing together of urban components that people live in, pray in and do their buying and selling in. 

2  In the Google Earth map of Shivajinagar, the site of the tomato market on Noronha road is highlighted in orange, its edges undefined. One can also see the centrality of the Russell market in the urban fabric of Bangalore. There is the St.Mary’s Basilica at the south end and the Market square at the north end.

3  The Russell market building is almost like the “edge” in a drawing or a map. There is the entire stretch of road which is covered, completely covered with people walking, people transacting business, people loading and unloading the trucks with plastic crates or jute sacks filled with tomatoes. 

4  It’s a morning of good sales for the tomato vendor who occupies a permanent place in a “temporary” location just outside the Russell market building but within its compound walls. 

5  One of the vegetable vendors inside the Russell market, Naseem, points out that the tomato vendors have been doing this business on the streets for many years now and have taken away the business of the vendors who are inside the market building. Some vendors who have shops inside the Russell market, also put up their produce for sale on the streets every morning. “But, we don’t do that” he said. “After all, one has to be a little dignified.”

6  The nature of the urban fabric that surrounds this urban space and its informal economy – a mixed use neighbourhood with commercial and residential interlacing with each other

7  More than anything else, it is this mass of people which seems to be the most predominant element in the urban landscape 

8 There are big players and there are small players – some operate as individual vendors and for some it is a family-operated business with several members participating actively every morning in deciding on the right price in an auction.

9 The sale does not end here. The tomatoes travel to another part of the city on a push cart or a hand cart and enter into yet another piece of negotiation. Now, in another part of the city, that street begins to participate in its own negotiation of urban space for the day.

10  I ask myself as I look at this informal but “everyday” tomato market: All seems to be going on seemlessly. How much change do we want? How much better can our city be? And, how can it be better than what it now is?

This post has featured in the DNA - Daily News & Analysis on Jan 2, 2012 and this is the link at Around the Blog

Read about:
a Street Bazaar & the CITY
a Street corner in Mumbai

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Marketplaces around the world: an archival film

A really interesting film with a narration that reminded me so much of the way the film ‘Citizen Kane’ begins, the same tone, the same excitement! Perhaps, the identity of the american radio broadcasts from the 1940s and ’50s – a time that many of us know about only through the Hollywood films and now also from historical archives that get online like this one!


Friday, November 25, 2011

Peanut festival in Bangalore

The Groundnut (Peanut) Fair, colloquially called the Kadalekai Parishe takes place once a year at Basavanagudi, in close proximity to Gandhi Bazaar. Every year during November-December over 200 vendors come to the city of Bangalore offering for sale tonnes of groundnuts. This photo essay covers the 2011 Fair that took place this week on Nov 21st and 22nd with Bull temple road becoming completely pedestrianised for the two days.

The legend goes that for some years, on every full moon day, a bull would charge into the groundnut fields located here and damage the crop. The farmers then offered prayers to the Nandi Bull to stop this and pledged to offer their first crop. Ever since, farmers and traders come here from the neighbouring villages and towns with cartloads of groundnuts a week in advance and there are visitors to the fair from within the city and from many places nearby.

Groundnut growers, Balloon sellers and the Sugarcane juice vendors

It's late afternoon and the crowds are increasing

Flower sellers in front of the Bull temple

Puffed rice, fried snacks - all part of the fair

Stall selling tapioca chips

Bull temple in the evening with the colourful lights - on the trees, across the road, everywhere!

For anyone who loves blowing bubbles!

It's the third day now and the traffic resumes on Bull temple road - the groundnut vendors will be here for a few more days

The quantum of groundnut has been increasing year after year and in 2010, the business turnover was around 100 million rupees

The numbers of people who come here has increased and last year, more than 0.6 million people participated

The Fair has been organised year after year by the growers themselves and is now also supported by two government institutions - the Department of Muzrai (Religious Endowment) and the Municipal Corporation of Bangalore

The residents of Basavanagudi believe that this tradition must continue and that the groundnut vendors who come from the nearby villages once a year must receive greater support from the city.

As the city of Bangalore expands, the groundnut fields near Bull Temple road move outwards and away from the temple. The relationship between the temple and the farmer still continues. The growth of the residential and the commercial neighbourhood in Basavanagudi has been a recent one, however, the urban fabric now envelops the Bull temple. One wonders if it is the groundnut vendors who are appropriating territory that is not theirs or is it the city that has appropriated land that was historically a place for the groundnut growers to make their offering to Lord Basava?

Read about:
Groundnut fair at Basavanagudi 2010
a Sea of Silence
Udaipur City
Fish market at Sasoon docks

Monday, November 14, 2011

Walking thru’ Chickpete

I had a printout of the google map of Chickpete that I studied quickly before I set out. It looked like I could start at the and then walk through the many streets and come out towards the Majestic Bus stand at the other end. It was tempting to go into and around the as I neared it. I had been there before. Always a hustle of activity, with its fruit and vegetable vendors making brisk sales almost at all times of the day! I loved watching that.

I was trying to be focused that day. So, knowing from my map that taking Avenue road would be a good point of entry into chickpete, I started out. As I walked here, there were stationery shops, diwali cracker shops, jewellery shops and all kinds of other shops. The footpaths are not so wide but there ARE footpaths and they had no encroachments. There is an interesting article Narrow avenue, broader minds at Citizen Matters that talks about Avenue road and the communities who live and work here.

The place was crowded at 11.30 in the morning. I got to a “circle” and took a left towards Balepet. A four-way road junction was being referred to as a “circle” whenever I asked for directions. “You will come to a circle, take a right there” someone would guide. There was no circular traffic island or roundabout, just the chaos of a four-way junction without a centrepoint identified.

Soon, I came across a Mutt building and then, some time later saw a Jain dharamshala. These were old buildings – the only ones with elements of vernacular architecture and seemed like they’d been here for many years. That suddenly took me into the past and I began to look at every new façade I passed with a different eye and an imagination of what it might have earlier been before it became a place of “grand sale” and “bumper offer”

What was Chickpete like fifty years before? Was the fading away of the vernacular architecture also a fading away of the traditional shopping culture? Had there been a traditional shopping culture? Were the streets less crowded then? Had there been horsecarts on the avenue road and not the loud, honking autorickshaws that deafened me from sensing the past or contemplating the future?

There seem to be similarities between inner city cores in our cities – Chickpete has characteristics that remind me of Georgetown in Chennai or the Crawford market area in Mumbai. I’ve written earlier at a Street corner in Mumbai about how in the Indian city, the bazaar has been the nucleus of the city growing into many intersecting streets that tell a story of livelihoods and a story of the city's evolution.

I was nearing yet another edge of the Chickpete market precinct and the walk had been about getting a feel of the maze of the streets that made it this dense shopping experience – both in physical and cultural terms – layers of everyday life that unfolded itself in front of you with every step and every thought that time took forward for you.

I knew I was coming back again soon. It was the next day that this happened. I was now at the Mysore Bank entering Avenue road from the other end. There was informal vending all over the place. Many many book titles looking at you from the footpath curb where stands balanced themselves and the books on them. Many booksellers of secondhand books occupied the sidewalks. Were they a spill-over from the formal shops? No, these were independent street vendors, for whom public space was where their livelihoods were anchored.

Suddenly, today, it seemed as if Chickpete was only about the informal sector. Nothing else was as predominant as this incredible range of things on sale – plastic flowers, bags of all kinds, dryfruits, sunglasses, what-not. There was street food of all kinds – from boiled groundnuts to cut-fruit stalls that were on push-carts that stood in the middle of the street sometimes, it really was sometimes the middle or at least half-way to the middle of the road!

I continue to ponder about this marketplace also after my walking around is done. What was a typical street in Chickpete, if one were to do an anatomy of it? It was this undefinable mix of pedestrian, street food vendor, car, autorickshaw, imitation barbie dolls positioned on parked two-wheelers or some other attractive item for sale – all put together – bringing back memories of the dizzying hand movements of the street vendor in old-time calcutta as he would mix the jhal-muri in that tin container with the aroma of mustard oil flowing towards you to tell you that the mixing was good and right!

If you were to walk through Chickpete in the morning, any time before 10am when the shops begin to open, it is quite another place. The streets are rather empty and you might see pigeons perched in the middle of the road, as I saw this morning as I chose to explore the streets of the Pete area when business has not yet begun here. You see tender coconut vendors on bicycles parked momentarily, sipping their morning tea alongwith street sweepers. There are newspaper vendors who have the news laid out for you on the steps of the merchant establishments.

In the morning, you can walk freely with the sun coming in and gently lighting up the street facades that you now see more easily since you are not jostling your way through the street crowds. There is a Nankatai vendor with a bicycle, who is stocking up fresh baked biscuits into a large glass jar for the corner Paan shop, who sells snacks and the paan. There are empty white, wooden shelves along the white wall of a building, which I had seen the day before covered with many books. I see them now in this morning light, waiting for their owner to come fill them again for this day and waiting for those who will read the books for their stories, in a way that others would read the city through walking its streets.

Read about:
Walking in Lille
Faces in the Bazaar

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Tender Coconut in a Street Bazaar

You are walking along a Street Bazaar absorbed in looking at the busy sweet-meat stall where you know you shouldn’t go but where your heart takes you nevertheless. You quickly turn away so as to shrug off just one more culinary temptation of the marketplace. Aromas of enticing street food waft towards you from another street corner. You tell yourself that you are not hungry, but then, you are suddenly thirsty!!

1  Welcome to Ahmedabad : the paan stalls, the farsan stalls, the chai stalls and coconut water stalls – Manek Chowk has everything.

In the Bazaar, there is no dearth of drinks to buy. Today, you can buy a bottle of mineral water anywhere. But, it’s such a waste to be in the Bazaar and to spend Rs.12 buying a bottle of mineral water!! Drinking water is what you will get yourself at home, you say to yourself. You can also buy a Coke or another cold drink. But, you look around hoping to find either a Sugarcane juice stall or a Tender Coconut seller. That’s what you get here that you don’t get elsewhere, and that’s what you want now! You find a vendor selling tender coconuts and walk up to him, standing in the middle of nowhere, a bunch of coconuts on a bicycle making brisk business in this hot afternoon. It gets you thinking about coconut-sellers and their place in the bazaar.

2  Banjara (gypsy) woman who sells bangles on D.V.G.road in Bangalore stops for a tender coconut

I look at the coconut-sellers in J.P.Nagar in Bangalore. There are two individual shops on the two sides of the road where the Mini-forest meets the Ring road. As I speak to one of these sellers, I learn that he buys a thousand coconuts each time, once in two days. There is a wholesale exchange at the Mandya at Mysore road. He sells about five hundred coconuts per day. The responsibility for carting away the waste of the coconut is that of the coconut-seller. He pays Rs.200 to have it taken away. This is also done once in two days. That’s the story of just one coconut vendor in a city of 9.5 million inhabitants in a country with a population of 1.2 billion.

3  Push-cart vendor has customers from the Brahmin café at Basavanagudi in Bangalore

You realise as you try to remember the different coconut-sellers you’ve seen and photographed that they are sometimes on a bicycle, sometimes with a push-cart and sometimes just with a bunch of cocontus that rest on the footpath. Often times, the vendor sits in the shade of a tree and sometimes he is constantly on the move, with the sun on his head for hours at a stretch. If it is a regular location, the selling space is established mostly at a corner junction, where you would have maximum visibility from as many potential customers as possible.

4  Serving those who worship the Lord: at the Bull Temple in Bangalore

The bazaar has a place for every kind of vendor, the one who walks, the one who cycles, the one who moves with his push-cart and the one who sells from a shop. The bazaar also has a space for every kind of commodity – food, drink, shoe, bangle, utensil, anything that you want to consume in a day or possess for a life time.

5  Tender coconut for the street, water melon for the home : at in Bangalore

I do a google search on ‘Coconut water’. I find the lyrics of Harry Belafonte’s song ‘Coconut woman’ that goes:
“The thing that's best if you're feelin' glum
Is coconut water with a little rum
It could make you very tipsy, four for five
Make you feel like a gypsy, four for five
Coco got a lotta iron, four for five
Make you strong like a lion, four for five”

6  Fixed Price: Rs 12 only for tender coconut (No extra charge for the shade of the tree)

Another link is to the Seminar Proceedings for ‘Coconut revival: new possibilities for the Tree of life’ held in Australia by the International Coconut Forum and it says that “More than 11 million farmers, mostly small holders with low income, grow the palm in 90 countries” Indonesia is the largest coconut producing country, followed by the Phillipines, with India occupying third place.

7  Café coffee day: 
a lot can happen over coffee 
Tender coconut: 
quenching your thirst 

Coming back to the Tender coconut vendor in the bazaar – it is a question of livelihood. He doesn’t know the Caribbean song and he does not hear what the experts discuss on Coconut. He is unaware that there are emerging new markets for “functional drinks from coconut – the sports drink, the energy drink, welcome drink and well-being drink” His life goes on and so does that of the blogger who contemplates on what goes on in the bazaar and outside of it, thinking that while a lot can happen in a street bazaar, life seems to be about quenching thirst of one kind or another.

Read about :
The Golla wallah
the Garland Makers in the Bazaar
Bollywood Posters
What is Chai

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Mall: where is it going?

Here, at the Indian Bazaars blog, in the initial days, I talked about how I would include in the blog, both the Bazaar and the Mall. Somewhere down the road, I completely forgot about the Mall. There was enough to share about the Bazaar as I explored the marketplace on an ordinary day or on a festival day.

Living in Bangalore, the Mall may be more a part of your daily life than the Bazaar. I did go to the Malls, not every day, but every once in a while. It was sometimes to watch a movie, sometimes to “eat out” and occasionally ‘to shop’. The malls had “Food courts” – the eating places where you could order one dish from one eatery and another from the neighbouring one and sit at these common tables in a cacophonic atmosphere of young people who did the movie, the shopping AND the “eating out” all in one sitting! Or, so it seemed to me.

Today, I come across this interesting article in the architectural journal PLACES and think again about the Mall. In order to understand ‘The Mall- where is it going?’ maybe, we need to look at ‘The Mall – where did it come from? And, therefore, this work from Brian Ulrich is so interesting to know. His book : Is this place great or what? was published recently, a collection of his photographs of consumer culture in the United States, pictures taken over a period of ten years.

The project comprises three series: Retail (2001-06), photographs taken in malls and big box stores across the country; Thrift (2005-08), focusing on the secondary life of consumer goods in thrift shops; and Dark Stores (2008-11). You can read about it here: Is this Place great or what?

There is a slideshow of the photographs at: Not if but when PROJECTS. These are malls in Illinois, New York, Ohio and some in UK. It shows the people, the goods. One could say that there is this monotony, in the way in which the goods are displayed and the way in which the people perceive and absorb what is displayed. Brian has studied this consumerism for a long time and his interpretations are interesting. You can read Brian’s writings on his blog, linked here: Not if but when BLOG

Last month, having spent ten days in Ahmedabad, we went one evening to Satellite road. It was THE place to shop, someone said. It had innumerable malls and the newness of the experience was on offer. But, we walked around that evening, the realisation soon dawning on us that Malls were dying, or at least a few had just died in the city, we did not know what would happen in the days to come. We had entered an EMPTY mall – it was a strange experience. Why were we here?! There was a handloom expo that was occupying a large central space in the mall. That was all there was in there. The rest of the mall was dead. No buyers. People had vacated. Sales were not good. At another part of the city, at Sarkari Virasat road, near Thaltej, I had seen that morning a new, “grand” mall under construction.

Who would occupy? Did it make good busines sense? an interesting read here in The Hindu. As we think about our future cities, we may look to the West for new aspirations but are we firmly grounded on where we come from?

Friday, October 07, 2011

a sea of silence

The memory of the Bazaar is often of a recollection of chaos and yet when I look back at the pictures taken at the crowded, chaotic, noisy Groundnut fair last november in Bangalore, I find that so many of the photographs have people immersed in thoughts and in silence. I look at one of my favourite books, Tagore's Fireflies and there are these lines...

The world is the ever-changing foam that floats on the surface of a sea of silence.

I am reminded of Kabira Khada Bazaar Mein, the film by Shabnam Virmani and the words: "In 15th century north India, the mystic weaver Kabir spoke his poems in the market place, his spirituality firmly grounded in the public square"

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Territoriality in the Indian Bazaar

I had been going to Gandhi Bazaar and wasn't tiring of it yet. There was so much going on there. I wrote about the Bazaar tour in Bangalore soon after. I think it was the flower sellers that I kept going back for. The making of garlands happened while the buying and selling took place. It was quite fascinating. We all know that there are many festivals in India. I had decided to be at the bazaar on every festival and they were coming faster than I could cope! I wrote later about an afternoon in festive Dussehra.

I had come across a paper 'Territorial Complexity in Public spaces' by Mattias Karrholm and it had set me thinking about Territoriality in the context of what I had been seeing at Gandhi Bazaar. Eventually, when a paper had to be written for a Symposium on Urban Visualities in Chennai, I chose to write about 'Territoriality in the Indian Bazaar'. The blogpost Art in Urban spaces has some of the photographs that were part of the Exhibition that accompanied this Symposium. However, I continue to think about Territoriality some months later and wonder why some questions seem more interesting than others. 

The human mind asks questions such as ‘why do birds fly?’ or ‘why do we yawn?’. We are intrigued by the phenomena that surround our everyday existence and look for answers. Often, there are no answers and sometimes an answer serves no other purpose than to satisfy our yearning to know. I ask myself, is the question of ‘Territoriality in the Indian Bazaar’ one of intrigue or of purpose?

a Vendor selling Cut-fruit marks his territory near Brigade road in Bangalore and also personalises his territory with a stuffed toy that potential customers can spot from a distance.
In our man-made environment, a spatial order is as important as a social order. There is a co-relation between the two orders located within a geographical context. What behaviour is socially and culturally acceptable and what is not? Which spatial configurations are changeable and which are not? Does the distribution of economic benefits take place in a balanced way?

We find that there is a continual effort to bring some semblance into our lives on the social and economic front in the many circles that we create in our existence and in our habitats. We have in our cities, the circles of living, the circles of work and the circles of commerce. In the circles of commerce, where we buy and sell goods for consumption, the place of exchange or the marketplace becomes a point of study and observation that draws us to explore questions of both curiousity and purpose. One asks therefore ‘Can a deeper understanding of Territoriality benefit the making of a shop, the design of a street or the planning of a city?’

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Keswick market in Cumbria

GUEST POST by Radha Vijay. Keswick is a quaint market town in the Lake District, Cumbria in the UK.  Its name originates from an Old English term Cese wic meaning ‘farm where cheese is made’. The origin of the market town is said to date back to 1276 when Edward I granted a charter to hold a market and the practice continues till today, well over 700 years later. 

The Market square with the Town hall in the background. 

We were in Keswick on a Thursday, it is a day they have a traditional market with local produce and a few international crafts on sale. It is different from the main farmers’ market (which is held here on Mondays), but is something similar on a smaller scale. The farmers’ market concept is popular in the UK. This is where farmers, growers, producers are allowed to sell their produce directly to the public. While the idea is to encourage the farmers to market their products without the middlemen, they still need licences to sell and have strict food laws to adhere to.

Located in the centre of the town is a pedestrianized market square. There are tents pegged in the middle of the square selling a variety of wares. The produce looks fresh and tempting. The market square is itself very quaint. With the hills in the background it makes a pretty sight. Cafés and stores line the street. Within the square is the Moot Hall, an old grey stone building, used in the past as a prison, courthouse and a town hall, and presently housing the tourism centre.  Look closely and you will see a one-handed clock in the building. It is said to be the oldest in the country.

A stall sold jams and preserves in different flavours.

Farmers can market raw produce or processed food. But it needs to be from what was produced on their own farm. They need to be manning the stall too.  It had the look of a homemade product, so different from the slick packaged bottles that are sold at the supermarket.

There were baked goodies like muffins, gingerbread and carrot cake.  The muffins were a meal by itself.

Homemade toffees and wooden cutting boards from local timber!

Others had cheeses, meats and ice-creams. Bite-sized pieces arranged for sampling. No pressure to buy, no glib sales talk…Few local artists and photographers were also selling their work.

Very familiar Indian handicrafts. But the banner said it was a charity stall in aid of Nepal. Far away in this little town in the UK!

Away past the Moot Hall, the square lead into another lane and there were more shops.  So many outlets with varied goods in Keswick., And considering it has a population of about 6000, you wonder where the sales come from! Tourists?

It was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. But like the stores across the UK, closing hour was 5.30 in the evening, despite daylight lasting upto 9.30 in the night in summer.  It had something to do with the labour laws in the country. For us it seems strange, after all, isn’t that when shopping/spending begins in India?

I would like to thank Radha for writing this post and for sharing her photographs! You can visit her blog at: Musings of a Night Owl

Read about: 
Fish Market Mumbai
Tibetans at the Cliff Bazaar in Kerala

Friday, September 02, 2011

The Indonesian, the Dutch and the Indian experience

This blogpost is an interview with Hasti Tarekat, a Heritage professional from Indonesia now based in the Netherlands.

1. What parts of a Dutch weekly market do you find most interesting and different from the Indonesian experience?
Mostly, I visit the weekly Dutch market near my house in Amsterdam Southeast which is not more than one kilometer long. But, in this one kilometer market, one finds variations of vegetables and fruits from almost all parts of the world. It says a lot about multi-culturalism in Amsterdam in particular and in the Netherlands. There are about 187 nationalities in Amsterdam and I think it is reflected in its markets.
Markets in Indonesia generally have more local products. This is good from the  sustainability perspective, that we should go local as much as possible to reduce import activities.
2. Could you share your observations on marketplaces in Indonesia that are informal, chaotic but with cultural and social richness?
Markets in Indonesia are less organized than markets in the Netherlands. There is insufficient infrastructure such as water supply and waste management. Some vendors have to put their stuff on the ground. Fish and meat stalls are wet. Many corners are dark. Cars can park on walking paths. So, comfort is not the strong point of markets in Indonesia.

What makes markets in Indonesia interesting is: (1) There are a lot of homemade and handmade products (2) Many of the products are fresh because markets start very early in the morning (3) It is always possible to bargain and this opens up contacts and communication (4) The markets are pillars of informal sectors which are very important in national economic development.
3. Can a bazaar in India be compared to a marketplace in Indonesia? What are the commonalities? What are some of the differences?
To be honest I went to bazaar in India only for a brief visit but from that short moment I enjoyed tremendously the atmosphere, colours and hospitality of the vendors. Bazaars in India have more colours than markets in Indonesia. I think it is related to the flowers, the spices and the textiles in India. The commonalities are the organic nature of the market itself, most part of the market grows itself without too much regulation. Differences are not so many except for the size of the market and the number of people. Bazaars in India are much larger and busier.
 4. Are there ways in which a traditional market environment can be included in Heritage Education for Inner city revitalisation?
I think markets are an important element of a city or a village and should be encouraged to develop and flourish. It is fine to have markets for tourists, but it is more important to keep markets as part of the local economic development. With this idea, we should put markets in the agenda of heritage conservation but unfortunately until now this is not the case. It is an ideal point for discussions about heritage – the social and the economic elements.

I would like to thank Hasti for taking out the time for this and also for writing the previous blogpost on the ‘Albert Cuyp market in Amsterdam’. In our informal interactions with Hasti at the ‘Urban Heritage Strategies’ workshop in Rotterdam, Hasti always had two different perspectives for us, one, the Indonesian one and the other, the Dutch one. It made our understanding of Heritage and Culture so much richer having these multi-layered perceptions and explanations.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Albert Cuyp Market in Amsterdam

GUEST POST by Hasti Tarekat.  The Albert Cuyp Market is a traditional market in the city centre of Amsterdam. It is walking distance from the Museum Quarters of the City. In all, there are about 250 stalls plus shops and cafes. Every year about 5 million visitors come to this market. The market is popular amongst tourists because it sells Dutch souvenirs, but it is also nice for locals especially on weekends because it sells fresh products (vegetable, fruit, seafood), creative products (handcrafts, clothes, kitchen utensils, etc) and it offers cozy cafes and restaurants.

Cafes and Bicycles in the Netherlands
Before 1900, there were canals and windmills where the market is presently located. It was later filled up for new housing development that was needed at that time in Amsterdam.  This area was called ‘De Pijp’ in Dutch and turned out to be a new slum colored by drug and prostitute problems.

An opening of a market in De Pijp was a matter of time as vendors started to sell their fresh products and initially they just shouted to get attention from their customers. The selling of goods was not permitted here and there were conflicts between the vendors and the police.

The Dutch clogs

In 1905, the Amsterdam Municipality legalized the selling activities but this was only for Saturday evenings. Later, in 1912, the market was allowed to open every day except Sunday.

During the economic crisis in the 1930’s, poverty influenced this market, followed by the Second World War when Germany made it difficult for the Jewish vendors to do their business. One third of the verdors in the Albert Cuyp Market were Jewish but after the war almost none of them came back. It left a deep wound in this market.

In 1960’s and 1970’s, the Albert Cuyp Market reached its peak period as more and more foreigners and the upper class of Amsterdam began to visit this market. Over the years, the market has gone through ups and downs but it continues to exist even today. It is still a local market for young and old, rich and poor, foreigner or local.

Patat or Dutch French fries(top) and the Famous Dutch Stroopwafels (above)

Hasti Tarekat is the co-founder and Executive Director (1998-2004) of Sumatra Heritage Trust based in Medan, North Sumatra and member of Board of Directors (2010-present) of Indonesia Heritage Trust based in Jakarta. She now lives in the Netherlands where she holds a voluntary position as the Representative of Indonesia Heritage Trust. She can be reached at:

Related Posts:
LonelyPlanet Blog Carnival on Marketplaces

Thursday, August 11, 2011

the Garland makers in the Bazaar

Walking along Gandhi Bazaar in Bangalore, my eyes suddenly stopped at this garland which was swirling in the hands of the flower-seller. Two hands tenderly moving as a silver thread twined around the red flowers and the garland moved itself acquiescently to gather its adornment.

The flower seller was both the craftsman and the vendor. A little distance away, another flower seller was stringing jasmine flowers. And further ahead, there were more flowers and more craftsmen.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Oral History at Russell Market

Recently, we’ve have been talking to street vendors and shop owners at Russell market in Bangalore. I include below excerpts from an interview:

“In the Russell market of old, the population was much less. There were many foreigners. You can say that one could buy just about anything here. There was nothing that was not available here. Now, there are many changes, there are traffic problems, there are parking problems. The maintenance of the market is not proper." 

We found that most of the older vendors have pleasant memories of the market and their day-to-day business. There was a substantial part of the clientele that was Anglo-Indian. Many of these were people who lived in Shivajinagar, the residential neighbourhood that envelops the Russell market and the 'Cantonment area' nearby. The vendors at Russell market speak with great pride about the wide variety of exotic fruits and vegetables you could buy here, some of which were imported from outside the country, especially during Christmas, when there was a 2-day Exhibition at the market, with vendors displaying some of the most attractive agricultural produce, and displays that competed for prizes at the Market Exhibition.

"Today, there are no officers in-charge like before. There used to be an office upstairs on the first floor of the market. There were watchmen all around the market building. There is nobody looking after this place now. This is a Corporation market. Earlier, when there were good officers, the market was maintained well. It was frequented by foreigners. Today, foreigners are afraid to come here. Maintenance is not proper. The shops are not proper. There is not a good enough accessway. They are giving our market a bad reputation"

Many of the vendors express the lack of support from the Municipal Corporation in terms of infrastructure upgradation and maintenance. However, we learnt that the vendors who have shops inside the market building pay a monthly rent of only Rs.200. The BBMP or municipality is reluctant to upgrade since their monthly revenue from the market is quite low and they are unable to get the vendors to pay a higher rent.

"Earlier, our business was so good. The people who now come to Russell market are fewer in number. Today, the market caters mainly to hotels and retail business has totally flopped. Parking has been a big problem. Even today, the vegetables you can get here, you will not get anywhere, the rare varieties. The customers don’t have parking space. Nobody can bring foreigners here to show them around."

Russell market is located at one end of Noronha road with the historic St.Mary's Basilica at its other end. It is a beautiful tree-lined avenue and one can imagine how beautiful the street would have been without the traffic congestion and lack of maintenance one finds here today. There have been attempts to resolve the parking problems but these haven't been entirely successful. One of the options has been to build a parking facility above the Shivaji Nagar Bus Stand in the vicinity. According to a few of the shopowners, this facility is not fully utilised since many visitors to Russell market are unaware of its existence. Secondly, a one-way access on the linkage between Shivaji Nagar Bus stand and Russell market requires cars to take a much longer detour before they can reach the Parking facility and many people opt for parking in front of the shops, adding to the congestion here.

"In the old days, I would wake up at four in the morning to come to the market. From 4am once our business started, until 10 am, we would not have the time to even have a cup of tea. That is how good our business was. We would eat our breakfast at 11am or 12 noon. After that, till 3 to 3.30 in the afternoon we would take a nap. Then, until 10pm, there would be so many people at the market. This was how it was about twenty years ago.”

These recollections of the vendors at Russell market were a way for us to recreate the bazaar in our minds. There is so little documentation available on our marketplaces that these oral history interviews become for us an important tool to understand the way in which bazaars work.

Interviewers : Rakshitha K.S. and Srishti Singh

Related Posts :
What is Russell Market
Urban Structure: City Market and Russell Market
How Green is my Bazaar
Marketplaces and Tourism

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Walking in Lille

Why were we in Lille? It had been an old, neglected town of France until twenty years ago but now it was a booming tourist place. How had that happened? We were here to explore the town, the central market and its many pedestrianised streets, to understand the Urban Heritage strategy that the French town had adopted but also to simply walk the streets and enjoy ourselves.

The Government had taken a major decision to make Lille the crossroads of high-speed trains. This decision had turned around the economy of the place. The government had simultaneously begun to carry out architectural restoration of buildings in the town. Lille started to become attractive to investors as well as tourists.

What was the route we took? We had arrived at the Gare de Lille Europe – the railway station built in 1993 connecting UK, Belgium and the Netherlands. From here, we walked through the Place de l’Europe and the Allee de St-Louis du Senegal towards the Place de la Gare. Our first stop had been the Napoleon café, where we had our first coffee in Lille. After that, we had walked to the Central Market, a square that has overlooking it, the Opera and the Vieille Bourse. From here, there are many streets lined with shops which are completely pedestrianised.

We looked at the architectural facades – some French and some Dutch, we looked at the Cobblestoned streets, we looked at the old-style signage that most of the shops carried. There were no hoardings in this heritage town. Sometimes, we stopped, only to look carefully at a street lamp that accentuated a street corner.

There were between the heritage houses, a few facades that were contemporary, that used large panels of glass and yet the detailing bringing in an elegance that gave the modern shops a place here amidst heritage and old-world charm. In some streets, there were infills, houses that had been constructed anew with bricks and plasterwork for cornices – a few that seemed more authentic than others.

The afternoon was spent sitting outside at a coffeeshop – it was cappuchino with waffles for some and pancakes for others. A heritage tourist town needed places like these and one saw these cafes in Lille as elsewhere in other tourist towns in Europe.

This journey through a town with so many pedestrianised streets made us think about what the 'process of pedestrianisation' had been for Lille. How long does it take for this change to happen? How does one bring about this change? Are there hindrances along the way? How do shopowners collaborate with the government in making the town pedestrian-friendly and tourist-friendly? What are the regulations that the local municipality designs and enforces for better traffic management? These were some questions that come to mind, that make me think about how difficult pedestrianisation is in India. (I discuss here about The why's and how's of Pedestrianising Gandhi Bazaar)

It made us think about why the concern for heritage in our own countries is so little. Perhaps, we do not understand how 'everyday objects' can also be 'museum objects', since in India, as in many countries in South Asia, there is so much that is living heritage.

As we walked the Streets around the Central market and the old city in Lille, we saw the most enticing bakeries and shops selling French souvenirs. And, I thought, there is only so much you can do in one day and only so much you can eat in one day, but it is always a good idea to try everything you possibly can!!

Read about:
Art in Urban Spaces
Faces in the Bazaar
Udaipur city