Saturday, October 27, 2012

a Morning market

In the early hours of the morning, the flower vendors at completely fill the public spaces of the inner city in Bangalore. It is a loose space that shapes itself as vendors and customers manoeuvre through it.

I am walking here on Dasera day. However, the vendors sell flowers here everyday. These are small traders who belong to the informal sector of the city. Their occupation of spaces on the streets is considered not legal. But, they continue to sell and the customers continue to buy. It is a symbiotic relationship of the informal economy with the citizens and the city.

No one asks questions about why people make a living by selling flowers on these streets as long as the selling happens before the city’s vehicular traffic begins to enter this same space.

As it nears 8am the numbers of cars, buses, autorickshaws and two-wheelers increases and the vendors are gradually edged out. The flower market then thinks of ending its transactions for the day. Here, at as in other flower markets elsewhere in India, what is almost legal before 8am becomes “illegal” after eight.

The traffic police begin their duties for the day and a line must be drawn, understood either visibly or verbally to know that the time for vending is now over. Some vendors leave before the police reaches there. Others leave after the police arrive and drive them away.

It is a daily act of vigilance. Every day, the morning market borrows urban space and then gives it back again. It is a way the city works.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Grand Central Terminal market

There are times when you have thoughts that run through your mind one after another from a different place and a different time – thoughts of walking through a market in a New York train station, of a story called ‘Hugo’ unfolding inside a Paris railway station and of memories emanating from the Victoria Terminus in Mumbai.

You look at these thoughts as they pass by like you were looking at a roll of film unfold before you. These are negatives that are placed side by side in your mind but are geographically located in different continents. Something binds them – they all hold within them histories of the railroad and of the time when the making of a “place” came about from detailing a ceiling, a grand clock or a monumental turret in a way that generations later, we still wonder about how time could stand still then as it never does now to make such inspiring work possible.

The experience of the Grand Central Terminal in New York city and the market within it are heightened in my mind with the imagery of Martin Scorcese’s 2011 film ‘Hugo’ particularly the opening scenes of the little boy looking through the hands of the station clock and the story’s simultaneous perception of ingenuity in the making of clocks and in the making of films with the railroad station as its backdrop.
I really liked the way Tony Hiss describes the Grand Central Terminal in his book The Experience of Place - “The main concourse of Grand Central – an enormous room, with 14 entrances – is only one part of an intricate structure that was opened to the public in February of 1913 and is justly famous as a crossroads, a noble building, an essential part of midtown Manhattan, and an ingenious piece of engineering that can handle large numbers of trains, cars and people at once. It was designed to handle huge crowds and to impress people with the immensity and the dignity of enclosed public places in a modern city. From the accounts left by its builders however, it was not designed to provide the experience actually available there today. That experience is one of the unplanned treasures of New York.” There is more about its history and its design here.

The market at Grand Central Terminal is where you go to for gourmet food – for artisanal cheese and bread, for speciality coffee beans, for hard-to-get spices, for fresh fish and for gourmet chocolates. You can read here an interesting description of the food merchants, including Zaro’s, Murray’s cheese and Penzeys spices, amongst many others. The market is located on the east side of Grand Central. It can be entered either from inside the Grand Central or from the entrance at Lexington avenue at East 43rd street. I entered the market from inside the Grand Central and after the overwhelming experience of the railroad station, when you walk through the market and come onto Lexington avenue, it seems as if it's one entrance connects you to the city's past and its other entrance to the city's future.

The Grand Central market came into being when a revitalisation plan was commissioned for the Grand Central Terminal in 1990. A $425 million master plan was presented at a public hearing and subsequently adopted in concept by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The retail specialists Williams Jackson Ewing had been asked to prepare a master retail plan to address services and amenities and the “new” Grand Central was reopened in 1998.

As I think about the Grand Central Terminal and its market, I recollect the days in Mumbai from twenty years ago when we travelled by the local trains starting and ending at the Victoria Terminus in Mumbai. It is a building designed by the British architect F.W.Stevens and built over ten years starting in 1878. It is an example of Victorian Gothic Revival architecture blended with elements from traditional Indian architecture. It became a symbol for Mumbai as a mercantile port city within the British Commonwealth. The building was originally intended to house the railway station and the offices of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway. A number of ancillary buildings were added later, but it never had a market planned within it. The original building is still in use for suburban traffic and is used by over 3 million commuters daily. (Source: UNESCO World Heritage list )

Crawford market in Mumbai

The Victoria Terminus could have had a market section within it similar to the Grand Central Terminal market and it may have been successful with its floating population being extremely high. However, the Crawford market, just north of the Victoria Terminus had been completed in 1869. It is another magnificent structure of Mumbai with a built-up area of 6,000 sq.ft. It was designed by the British architect William Emerson and is a blend of Norman and Flemish architectural styles. It has been primarily a fruit, vegetable and poultry market with the merchants also selling imported food and cosmetics.

In Mumbai, the experiences of the Crawford market, the Victoria Terminus and the Flora Fountain, built in 1864 are woven together. The Hornby road (now named D.N.Road) linked the Crawford market to the Flora Fountain with several Neo-classical and Gothic Revival buildings built on commercial plots along the broad avenue road. Over the years, the market building had grown into an urban precinct with intersecting streets of formal and informal vendors selling textiles, stationery and household goods. This is an experience different from that of the Grand Central Terminal Market, where it is one street lined with shops on its either side and yet both the Grand Central Market and the Crawford market are part of the histories of railroad stations – one, in New York city and the other in Mumbai.

Related Post:
The Marketplace: Lonely Planet Blog Carnival
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Marketplaces of the world: a Listing
Street corner in Mumbai