The first day of the Ganesha festival was Monday, the 9th of September. Today, it’s six days already since the festival began. If one were to step out onto the street here at Bannerghatta road in Bangalore, there would be little to tell us that it is Ganesha time. Our Bilekahalli locality is not a prominent marketplace, like the Malleswaram market or like Gandhi Bazaar. But, on the day before the start of the festival, this small bazaar comprising of just a few pushcart vendors was a place of celebration and festivity! That was for me the bit to contemplate about Ganesha festival this year. To know how small neighbourhood bazaars have so much happening during a festival and are totally joyous for that day.
The next day evening, on Monday, the vendors were already dismantling their display systems, the metal tables that they had taken on hire for a day. The little Ganeshas that had been sitting on these tables all of Sunday and Monday were all gone. The banana leaves were not to be seen. There was garbage everywhere and it had been raining a little. Of course, it was all a mess and you couldn’t see any celebration any more. But, so what, Sunday had been a special day here!
On the morning of Sunday, we had gone all the way to the Malleswaram flower market. It is quite far from our B.G.Road. We had been invited by cousins to a morning walk in Malleswaram which was to be followed by the traditional breakfast routine. The bazaar bit was exciting but the breakfast bit more exciting. I’ll come back to that later.
We were now at the flower market. Of course, it was beautiful. And, it was busy. It was in fact very busy that morning. The stretch outside the market entrance had a long row of vendors selling banana leaves. They stood almost just off the footpath. No, they stood on the footpath, but the banana leaves stood on the road. I mean, there would be no place to walk otherwise. And, right there, was the Bus stop and people waiting for the bus. Nobody complained. Each one did what he or she had to do. Vendors looking after their banana leaves and lotus flowers, customers bargaining in voices that you couldn’t hear in that crowd and noise and commuters with their eyes on the road for the next bus.
Both of these newspaper articles are about the Ganesha in Bombay. For those in Bangalore, there’s more about the eco-ganeshas at Eco-Ganesha: Where to find him, and why?, a Citizen Matters article that talks about what is eco-ganesha, the do’s and don’ts for this Chaturthi and about ‘BBMP’s rules for the festive season’ which is quite good to read also because it makes you realise how much work and responsibility a festival can generate for a local municipality. It's more work for them with every festival we celebrate. Also, with the Kadlekai Parishe or Groundnut festival that happens at Bull temple road every year. I've written about that earlier at: Policing the Urban space.
Coming back to the streets of Malleswaram, there were also sweet vendors along the footpaths. Just as we had bought some and were already into eating the coconut barfi right there, it started to rain. We wished it hadn’t rained that morning. The vendors had to quickly cover their wares with large blue plastic sheets that they had ready with them. All the people who until then had been strolling casually and stopping at every few feet had to take shelter under some of the shop awnings. It wasn’t heavy rain, it was a drizzle, but everyone had to think of rushing their shopping and getting back home sooner.
This wasn’t the end of our trip to Malleswaram. The rain had stopped after a while and we were on our way to Veena stores, for what were considered the best idlis this side of town. Our side of town (not Bannerghatta road, but further away at Basavanagudi) you could get good idlis at Brahmin café or at Vidyarthi Bhavan in Gandhi Bazaar. That was our favourite traditional place closest to home. Nothing else on the way, and, nothing on B.G.road could even be considered as a breakfast place to go to. But, yes, the Veena stores idlis were really good. We had been asked earlier by our cousins if idlis were what we wanted. Because, if we preferred dosas, then, they would have taken us to another part of Malleswaram!
I’m not done yet. There’s just a bit more. We happened to step into Naturals Icecream in the Adigas Lane on Bannerghatta road that same afternoon. We had to pick up some icecream for a lunch get-together. So, we go in and there’s some excitement in the air, with some people trying out the flavour of the day. And, what was that? The prasadam icecream. So, we tasted it and were told that it was the ‘modak’ flavour. Earlier, we had eaten the ‘panchamrutam’ icecream at Saravana Bhavan at the Mylapore Bazaar in Chennai. We always remember that one fondly. Here, the modak flavour had a distinct coconut and jaggery taste to it. Absolutely wonderful! For those of you who haven’t tasted it yet, it’s available until the tenth day of the Ganesha festival!
Each time I go to Manek chowk in Ahmedabad, the streets look different, completely different. The last time I went there, it was around the Holi festival and you could tell that Holi was just around the corner, because everywhere, you saw the Pichkaris and the holi colours. If you were to go there in January, around the Sankranti festival, there’s kites everywhere!! And, Diwali time, it’s fire crackers and the paper lanterns and all kinds of lights! The more I see of Manek chowk, the more I wonder about its innate nature to absorb, to adapt. It seems to soak in whatever happens in the city – if people celebrate Holi, the streets of Manek chowk celebrate Holi; if people celebrate Diwali, the streets of Manek chowk are lights and firecrackers!
And right now, it’s the Raksha Bandhan festival and there’s Rakhis everywhere! It’s like seeing the reflection of nature in water…whatever is outside is there inside the water, nothing more, nothing less.
'Life in the Streets' is a 4-day workshop for architecture students and young professionals to be held at Dakshinachitra, Chennai from 15th to 18th aug 2013. The focus of the workshop is to develop a “way of seeing” the Indian Street that accepts and understands that while the Street is ‘Connector’ (meant for people and cars to move) it also enables social, cultural, religious, political, and economic practices that are unique to our country. How can we bring about small changes in our perception and that of others through documenting ‘how people use street space’ and interpreting the observations in the context of how our cities are developing?
The workshop begins with sessions that help look at our streets and neighbourhoods differently. There are walking tours to observe and document experiences through photographs, films, sketches, diary accounts, maps and interviews. The urban practices that are documented are analysed through brain-storming sessions as well as discussions on key issues that emerge. Finally, the participants rethink and replan a Street with the collective knowledge that the workshop brings about. While the core audience is architecture students, students from disciplines that engage with public spaces are also welcome to apply, such as design, social sciences, etc.
There is ‘Street Space’ and there is ‘Virtual Space’ and watermelons are there both places. Some people find the time to walk the Street and to bargain over a watermelon purchase. Others prefer to sit at the computer and order it online at the click of a button. It is about how much time you have. What does this mean? Why is it that people in some cities have more time and some have less time? Why are people in some places called “laid-back”and are easy-going and unhurried? What gives time its value?
In his book, ‘A Geography of Time’, Robert Levine points out that cities and cultures across the world seem to keep time a bit differently from one another. In his research, Levine works towards getting objective indicators of the pace of life. He measures people’s walking speed, their talking speed and their work speed. He finds that places that have warmer climates tend to have a slower pace of life. Places that are economically vital tend to be faster. The vital economy puts pressure on people to make every moment count.
Coming back to the watermelons, when does one order them online? When we don’t have the time to go out to shop for them on the street? An image of it becomes available for us in virtual space, to see and to order. No real space is used. But, the watermelons that are delivered to our homes are real and they need to be stored in real space before the final dispatch happens. These watermelons occupy real space, but not street space. This does not mean that cities where the pace of life is faster have streets that are empty with everything being bought or sold in virtual space.
On one side of the Krishnarao Park at Basavanagudi in Bangalore, there sits a watermelon vendor occupying a huge part of the footpath there. Perhaps, it is the wide footpath and the proximity to Krishnarao Park that makes this an attractive location for him. It is anyway a matter of a few months only. Watermelons are a seasonal fruit and he will not occupy this space forever. But, these watermelons change the visual landscape of the street.
You walk through almost any street in the Gandhi Bazaar or Basavanagudi area and there isn’t a dull moment. We do not in India need to plan for an “active street edge” as some cities in western countries do. Here, we have them already. What we do need to do is to figure out how we can smoothen the conflict between what street space belongs to the car, what belongs to the pedestrian and what belongs to the vendor. How does one do that?
A few days ago, I was going through the ‘Bangalore District Gazetteer’. The 'oldness' and the 'dustiness' of the Gazetteer just seemed to add to the authenticity of a "gazetteer". The stories were mostly likeable bringing in a sense of wonder and revealing a past that I did not know. I looked for “markets” and “bazaars” on its index page. Sharing here some excerpts from it – the ones that I found most interesting were the ones with names of localities in the city that we know today but are so completely transformed from the “old days”, for instance, it talks of Sarjapur as being “noted for Muslin cloth” and so on. So, here we go…
a Betel nut shop in Mysore, 2010
“Bangalore grew in importance after its development by the Kempegowda family who made it their capital by strengthening it with a fort and providing for various streets meant for the craftsmen and various groups of traders. Chikkadevaraj Wodeyar of Mysore (1672-1704) after getting Bangalore as ‘jahgir’ from Mughals encouraged trading activity by introducing uniform weights and measures and postal services for the first time. By then, separate markets were built for different trades viz. Aralepete for weavers and sari merchants, Akkipete for rice merchants, Nagarthapete for goldsmiths, Doddapete for wholesale, Chickpete for retail, etc.”
“The travel account of Buchanan who visited Bangalore in 1800 gives an exhaustive account of trading and commercial activities of Bangalore. According to him, apart from Bangalore, neighbouring villages like Agara, Halasur, Hesaraghatta, Varthur and Kengeri were centres of brisk wholesale trade. Sarjapur near Anekal was noted for Muslin cloth. Saries manufactured at Aralepete were famous throughout the State and were exported to far off places like Mangalore, Bellary, Bombay and other places near sea ports.”
“From other sources (a missionary’s chronicle) it is learnt that in the days of Haider and Tipu, in addition to salt, sulphur, indigo, tamarind, caustic soda, alum, zinc, lac, wax, gum and arsenic were brought from Madras. Flower and betel leaves came from Attibele. Betel leaves also came from Mysore and Harihar. Indigo came from Anekal and Bommasandra, kamblis (country blankets) from Kamblipura in Anekal taluk. Salem and Pondicherry had regular trade connections with Bangalore during 18th century. Tanjore merchants sold pearls in Bangalore and took back cash.”
“During the period of Bowring (1862-67) important roads connecting Bangalore with Kadur, Hassan, Hoskote, Kadapa, Hosur and Bellary were constructed, railway links were established with Madras (1864) with Channapatna (1881) with Tumkur (1884) and finally connecting with Bombay promoting rail-road traffic of goods and passengers.”
“During 1934-35 sandalwood oil from Bangalore was exported to London, Japan and Australia. By 1934-35, the local tobacco co. (Tobacco Manufacturers India) used to export cigars valued at Rs. 1 ½ crores to Bombay, Calcutta and Delhi. A record of 1940 reveals that cattle shows were held at Bangalore and this was usually at Sampangi tank. Conducting annual market shows was a regular feature, where exhibits of good products were appreciated and rewarded. Mutton shows were organized in January every year, at the Russell market.”
Now, a bit of the curiosity is satiated but some other questions… “tanjore merchants sold pearls in Bangalore and took back cash” what is the pearl trade like now??! Or “cattle shows at Sampangi tank” – would someone still have pictures of that??!
Reference: Kamath, Suryakant. Bangalore District: Karnataka State Gazetteer, Gazetteer of India, Government of Karnataka, 1990
While the book ‘Who Moved My Cheese’ by Spencer Johnson is about how people can adapt to change in their lives, this blogpost ‘Who Moved My Tomato?’ is about the entrepreneurial spirit within the informal tomato markets in India which rests on the belief that ‘change is constant’.
It may be that the onion wholesale markets or the potato wholesale markets are not so different. However, we had the chance to visit the wholesale tomato market at Vaddahalli and observed what goes on there. It is in the Mulbagal taluk in Kolar district, just off the NH4, about 90km from Bangalore and has been functioning since the past 25 years. We saw how farmers, commission agents, wholesale dealers and retailers involved in the tomato trade accept that ‘change happens’ and how they adapt to it. Each year and each season, the output from the field is likely to differ and the demand from the markets is also differs. Every day a new price is fixed for the tomatoes that depends on how many crates the farmers bring in and how many kilos the commission agent thinks he can sell.
The tomato traders can “anticipate change” in that they know from their informal interactions with fellow workers or with customers that there will be an increase in the demand in the coming season, either because there was a sudden rise in demand at the same time the previous year or because they have been told that in the current year, a particular crop season coincides with the marriage season, i.e. there may be many days in those months that are auspicious for marriages and the demand for tomatoes will be high.
The traders can “monitor change” or “smell the cheese often so you know when it is getting old”. In the case of the market for tomatoes, it is about knowing whether the crop must be harvested early or late. If the demand is high in the local areas, the tomatoes can be harvested when they are almost fully ripe. If the demand is low in the local areas but is fairly good in faraway towns and cities, the tomatoes must travel longer distances and need to be harvested when they are still green. The green tomatoes fetch a better price than the ripened, red tomatoes. The ripening of the tomatoes is a function of the weather. At certain times of the year, the tomatoes ripen faster and while they are still small in size.
There is a multitude of ways in which the tomato moves from the hands of the farmer in the village to the hands of the small retailer in the city. The market at Vaddahalli has 43 commission agents. Anyone can start a commission agency, however, the challenge is in getting farmers who would be willing to supply the tomatoes. Most farmers live and work within a radius of 50km from this market and have already established a relationship with a Commission agent. For a new Commission agent, business can only come from bringing in new farmers by assisting them with loans or providing them with saplings for a better crop.
The tomatoes are brought in every morning by the farmers and handed over to the Commission agents who then auction them at the Vaddahalli market starting at 9am every day. The farmers also spend money on transporting the tomatoes from their villages to the Vaddahalli market. The tempo drivers charge Rs.6 per plastic crate for the transportation. This includes picking up the tomatoes from the farmer and then, taking the boxes back to the village, so that the farmer can bring his produce again, which is done once in three days. Some Commission agents own 5000 plastic crates. During circulation some of the crates get misplaced and this loss is borne by the commission agent. Each empty plastic crate costs him Rs.15.
The selling of tomatoes between the farmers and the commission agents is based on volume and not by weight. It is ‘how many’ crates, where each crate of tomatoes can weigh upto 14-15 kilos and can be priced at anywhere from Rs.15-20 per crate to Rs.300 per crate. This means that the lower price range can bring the farmer Rs.1/kg. The pricing is based on the size, the colour and the firmness of the tomatoes.
The commission agent gets about ten percent of the final price. So, if a crate of tomatoes is sold for Rs.20 at the Vaddahalli market, the tempo driver gets Rs.6, the labour for plucking in the village costs Rs.3 and the commission agent gets Rs.2. The farmer’s profit is Rs.9 for every 14 kilos of tomatoes that he brings. A farmer gets 100 crates per acre for every 3 days.
The buyers at the auctions are the “agents” of the wholesale traders from various cities. It could be Chennai in Tamil Nadu or Guntur in Andhra Pradesh where the tomatoes are supplied to. These agents get a five-day credit period from the commission agents. However, the commission agents have to make the payment to the farmer almost immediately. In addition, the commission agents have to ensure that good saplings go to the farmer. The price of the saplings is deducted from the sale proceeds. So, the commission agents are crucial cogs in this entire market process.
Last year, at this time, each crate of tomatoes was selling at Vaddahalli market for Rs.300. Because of the high demand, this year more farmers planted tomatoes and the price has dropped drastically with supply being in such abundance. The agents need to be in the know of what is happening in the cities so that they can fix the price accordingly. If they don’t do that, they may sell the tomatoes at a much lower price than what the market is willing to pay and it is the local intermediaries that make large profits as a result.
There are two varieties of tomatoes: the natti (indigenous) variety and the hybrid variety. The Vaddahalli market is the hub for the natti variety. There are other wholesale tomato markets at Madanapalle, Kolar and Malur. Each of these markets have their own commission agents and their own set of farmers. The farmers sometimes can sell at multiple markets, so it is in the best interest of the commission agent that he doesn’t let his farmer go away to another agent or to another market. This is done by getting nurseries to give them saplings when they need them, ensuring that the farmers get a good price for their produce and giving them their payments on time.
Coming back to the Who moved my cheese analogy where cheese is representative of happiness and success, what does the tomato here represent? For the Bazaar entrepreneur, ‘finding new cheese’ is about ‘finding new opportunities’. The key to success in the tomato trade seems to lie in knowing how much to grow, how often to harvest, how to deliver to the rural and urban markets, how to distribute, how to price and how to reinvest in the business again. You need to be innovative, efficient and productive whilst the environment around you is constantly changing. And, it seems that those who find new ways to respond to the ground reality are likely to experience greater success.
(I would like to thank Keshava Reddy for identifying this market for us and for conducting the interviews on which this blogpost is based)
a Guestpost by RADHA VIJAY. We were in Kingston upon Thames, waiting for my daughter to join us, and with an hour to spare we wandered towards the market place. While most people tell you that High Streets in the UK look more or less the same, this one we could tell was definitely different.
The Ancient Market Place, has an old world charm about it. Buildings that had seemed right out of history books, the medieval street pattern, a gilded statue, a fountain, a church in the background. It was really enchanting.
And we were right in our thinking, a panel in one of the many connecting alleys traced the background of the market square. Established in 1170 in the time of Henry II, it was then the focal point of the local trade, the governance and hospitality
Kingston market place was the center of the planned town dating from Saxon times. Well connected to the river and road and thus convenient for traders. At the centre of the market place is an old Victorian building from 1840 that now houses the Tourist Information Center. An imposing gold gilded statue of Queen Anne stands in front of it.
Surrounding the hall are about 25 fixed market stalls of 3 metres by 2.5 metres. Mainly selling fresh produce ranging from meat, fresh vegetables, fruits, flowers and baked goods. And one odd store that seemed hugely popular too, selling second hand DVDs! Not all traders operate on a daily basis so one can find a shuttered stall off and on.
Apart from this, the streets are lined with well-known brands in quaint buildings. Spas, pubs, book stores, cafes, making the area very popular with the residents.
The Jack Wills brand that prides themselves at being Fabulously British, houses their stores in historical buildings across the country. This store in Kingston, has the Tudor facades added in 1909 and 1929.
The Millet store building was also a restaurant from 1901 to 1932 when the ground floor was converted to a shop.
The Druids Head is Kingston’s oldest pub dating from the 17th Century.
The Joules building also has the dates inscribed AD 1422 to 1922.
There was a busker playing the accordian. Musicians here do not need a license to play their music in the market place. But they need to follow certain rules to ensure they are not creating a Noise Nuisance. These are simple. Do not stay in the same place too long. No indiscriminate use of amplifiers. Do not block pathways, entrances. Do not sell anything.
If you wanted to pick up a coffee at Costa and not be confined to their little café, you could walk out and use the street furniture provided by them. Or, if you were not a customer but wanted to rest in any case, there were some stone benches that you could use.
To me, it looked perfect. We had a baby to mind, and we were comfortably moving around with her in a pram. The area was pedestrianised and apart from the weather, we had little to worry about. So, it was surprising when I read about a plan for revitalisation of the area. I wondered what more they could do to improve this lovely place.
Well, it appears to be a part of the Mayor of London’s Outer London Fund, to bring about vibrancy and economic growth to high streets across London. Even though it is already an important venue for traders, they think a makeover can improve trading, aesthetic and overall appearance of the Market Place and the Market House leading to increased footfall.
They have been going about it systematically over the past two years. Consulting with businesses, stake holders and local residents. After intial concept proposals, direct interaction with people, 3000 newsletters were distributed, comments were studied to serve as further guidance to develop the proposals. Market-Trader sessions, Community Market events, workshops with stakeholders, and Drop-in exhibitions were also conducted.
There were issues of:
• removal of street clutter • lighting scheme to create inclusive public space with character and drama • making waste storage and waste compaction part of the proposal • more free seating • improving safety
However, the priority was clear. The history of the area had to be protected and showcased. The present arrangement, it was felt, was obscuring the view of the Market Hall with the stalls blocking the views of the magnificent arches of the building. The image to the left is the side of the Hall as it is now - and to the right - a projection of how the place should look.
(The image at the right and the ones that follow are from literature available online on revitalisation of Kingston Upon Thames)
There is a suggestion of a technique of picking out the building lines using banding on banding in paving to encourage the eye line to look up at the building
There is a focus on non-retail activities once the stalls closed in the evening as well as lighting that highlights the architecture.
It would be interesting to see how the area will eventually be transformed. What amazes me is the pride the people have in their heritage. In our country, we have always seen the old giving way to new. And in most cases, quaint charming old mansions were deemed to be unfit and without a thought broken down to give way to a new mall that did not blend with the rest of the neighbourhood. But here, even though I was only just a visitor, it gladdened my heart to think of the planning that went into a renovation and projects that were made public even before the implementation.
I am hoping that next year, I will be able to make a trip once again to see if the place lives up to all the wonderful ideas in the pipeline. Maybe another post then?
(Thanks, Radha…for sharing the post and for the photographs! I really appreciate this…)
I took a long time to get to Facebook and now finally there's an Indian Bazaars facebook page! I'll be posting links to articles and blogposts related to marketplaces in India and elsewhere and sometimes links to NEWS about what's going on with our Bazaars. The idea is to continue sharing thoughts on the Indian Bazaar and to take it further into how the Indian Street has a unique character made possible by the social and cultural life of the Bazaar that happens there!
but, where was the market? There was nothing to identify this as a market building. Nothing to identify it as a market street either. There was no street. Just some space between randomly built one-storeyed brick and concrete structures. There were flowers everywhere. People selling flowers. People buying flowers.
From the street outside, I had seen huge flower garlands in yellow, crimson and green. If it wasn’t the size of those garlands, I would have never noticed the flower vendors. I would not have sensed that perhaps I could walk between these two shops and there would be something beyond.
I walked towards the flower shops and then between them. It was just more yellow, crimson and green garlands on both sides. Couldn’t see anything or anybody. Then, heard voices of vendors calling out to ask if I wanted to buy. That was for a brief moment. What the eyes saw just completely erased the words in the air. I didn’t hear them anymore.
The market had no “entrance”. Yet, if this was not a magnificent way to enter any place, what was? I still can’t get over the fact that I would have never known that I could enter a flower market here.
Further down, there were more shops selling flowers. It was a busy time. It was 8.30 in the morning. Sacks full of loose flowers being weighed on large weighing scales everywhere one went. No designated paths for customers. No designated operation spaces for vendors. Could I derive from this a plan for the marketplace? It just seemed like a ‘plan with no plan’.
I remembered then the walk through Pedana, a town near Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh where a little boy had taken us through a random but informative weaving tour as we went through a back alley into a weaver’s house, through a courtyard where yarn was being dyed and through the interior where the weavers sat at their looms and again through the frontyard into yet another street. I think informal economy anywhere in India creates the same sense of ‘place’ – one that cannot be defined or fathomed but one that has a presence nevertheless.
From this series of shops, if I turned left it took me to this tea stall which I had seen from the street earlier. The tea stall was not so far from the “street corner” I had sat at the previous morning, at the junction of Asaliamman Koil street and Tiruvoodal street. I retraced my steps back from the tea stall to the small junction in the flower market that I had first arrived at and turned right. More shops. Many transactions.
There was a continuous stream of people with large sacks of flowers on their heads climbing steps and disappearing behind the houses there. There was perhaps something more behind there. I climbed the steps. Where was this going to lead to? I came out onto a street. There were clay pots everywhere. I had seen this corner before. It was the corner you reached if you turned right from the main east entrance of the Arunachaleswarar temple.
A few houses, paths between houses and a flower market had happened. There was maybe nothing to plan? Markets in India just happened, where people walked and where paths crossed. Was anyone asking, ‘Is this a good location?’ ‘Is this a good plan?’ or ‘Is this a good design?’. It seemed not to matter. ‘Was business here good?’ ‘How did one begin to sell here?’ or ‘How much income could one make with selling of flowers?’ Those were the questions that mattered to a vendor and a ‘place for exchange’ perhaps had to be able to answer that.