Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The flowers were 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.


radha said...

In the good old days, people would take the trouble to go and seek out these places to buy their goods. I know someone who drives a good distance through some harrowing traffic to buy a bunch of flowers. Some like myself, would pick up a few from the nearest florist, to avoid the trouble. I wonder what will happen to the livelihood of these flower sellers if there were more like me ! But indirectly, I guess we do contribute - for instance if there is a wedding we would place an order and those flowers probably originate from such places. So I guess the plan without a plan is what it would seem to us... those who have to deal with them on a daily basis will know how to source them.

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Indian Bazaars said...

Radha: At Gandhi Bazaar in Bangalore, for instance, vendors say that people come from many parts of the city to buy flowers, although as you said, you get everything almost everywhere these days! On the other hand, it is QUITE possible that they travel to Gandhi bazaar for flowers or something else just so that they can also visit Vidyarthi Bhavan for a 'khara bhaath and coffee'. The 'plan without a plan', I meant the architectural plan - I was unable to sketch in my mind - a layout of the market, it was so random.

Dr.Purushothaman: Thankyou.

Anil P said...

Nicely evoked.

Economy is a street in itself, making its presence felt in the connections it engenders among inhabitants living on real streets. Economy is a flow that traces paths that eventually morph into living spaces from which streets radiate.

Indian Bazaars said...

Anil: That's a very interesting insight. Thankyou. And, just today, I was reading about the beginnings of the market economy and how cities reflect market systems that people adopt.