Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Fish market Mumbai

“Go to Sassoon Dock at break of day, and there before you are the two unchanging forces of Bombay – commerce and the sea – in jostling, clangorous, Technicolor profusion.” It is these words from Pico Iyer's essay on Bombay, in his book ‘Tropical Classical’ that keep coming back to me. I know that I have to go to Sassoon Docks someday. When I finally do, I wonder why inspite of growing up in Bombay, it has taken me so many years to come here.

I'm finally at the Sassoon Docks. I stand there for a moment watching the silhouettes of people and baskets in the first light of the morning. Sometimes, there is so much that one doesn't know about within one’s own city. I start to walk deeper into the market. The environment is changing rapidly - more people molecules and less space molecules. I try to be here without being noticed, try to not be in anyone’s way, which is so difficult to do, because there are so many koli men and women walking about and moving fast. You can’t afford to be in the way of a fisherwoman who is going past with an empty basket or a filled basket. In both cases, she is in a hurry and if you so much as fall within her path, she will either push you aside and move ahead or will swear at you.

The paths are not even defined, so you are always right in the middle of a path that you didn’t know would happen. This could be the only time you wished you wouldn’t understand even a bit of Marathi or had never heard any of these swear words to know their meaning. If they are flung at you, they sound worse than they ever did before. You sense your body mechanisms preparing their second and their third line of defense at this point. And later, as you think about it, you realise that you only like the fisherwomen for being themselves. That’s them and they don’t believe in packaging themselves in politeness.

This Fish Bazaar at Sassoon Docks is a place where the small boats and big boats arrive from the sea and the catch is sold at wholesale prices to fish vendors who then sell to customers all over the city. The fishermen in the small boats make one-day trips out to sea. The larger boats are out at sea for 7-10 days and there are 12-15 fishermen on each of these boats. The boats arrive at Sassoon docks by the evening or earlier in the day. They are offered for sale only the next morning. The smaller boats dock themselves on one side of the jetty and the larger boats on the other side. Baskets of fish are actually swung across to someone standing on the jetty, since the boats are not able to get closer than ten feet to the edge of the jetty when they dock.

The fish move through a series of people and locations, from small baskets that come off the boats to large baskets and plastic bags, from the fishermen who are still on their boats to the wholesalers who are stationed along both edges of the jetty. Along the centre of the jetty, there are roofed sheds and the space is primarily occupied by baskets that are waiting to be filled and taken into the city. Around this space and along the edges of the jetty is where the people movement is and where the bargains happen.

I begin to chat with one of the men who seems not in a haste. I'm sure that this man of quiet demeanour wouldn't mind telling me a bit about the bazaar and its flurry of activity. After all, he is not rushing like the others, with "no time to stand and stare". I learn that he is here to neither buy nor sell. He is a caretaker of fish baskets. While the fisherwomen are going about negotiating and buying the best fish for the best price, empty baskets and partially filled baskets are under scrutiny cover. The caretaker charges Rs.10 for each basket that he looks after. This man does not move from his place but his eyes are catching every movement around him. If there is a theft, he must take responsibility and he is expected to give back a fish-filled basket. He has only sixty seconds to speak to me. He then looks away. He has business to do. There are many such young caretakers all over the marketplace, minding the several baskets around them.

Perishability of the fish gives rise to another enterprise - the selling of ice. There are those who only sell ice to all the fisherwomen. The measure is a nine inch diameter basket, about 7 inches in height, which costs Rs.5 each. Fisherwomen buy the fish. It is put into their baskets and they immediately buy either one or two measures of crushed ice to cover the fish with. Outside the market gate, there are small ice factories, where these vendors buy the crushed ice for selling inside the market. It is a supply chain design strategy that interlinks various stakeholders who must each maximise efficiency to reach their peak values.

In the traditional shopping environments, bargaining has been an important communication channel. If one were to write a story about the art of bargaining in India, the best examples would perhaps come from a fish market. The fisherwomen are the masters of the art. If there are a hundred different ways to make a bargain, they are adept at all the hundred skillful nuances of the art. The words are sharp. The tone is sharp. It’s a completely no-nonsense interaction. On both sides of the bargaining divide, there is a fisherwoman. It’s like watching a sport, to see who will win and to silently rejoice in their victory and to move on to experience more.

I wonder about the marketing strategies. There are no publicity boards. Here, what works today is what worked years ago, when advertising was about how long you could walk and how loud you could shout. I see a young boy in a bargain with a few fisherwomen. He is trying to fix a price on a basket of fish that he wants to buy and must see who will give him a good price.

There are individual baskets that leave the marketplace, carried on the fisherwomen’s heads in which fish catch is moving out. Some baskets get loaded onto hand-carts which carry upto four large baskets each. You see these exit one after another once business is done. The hand carts go upto the gate onto the main road, where they are loaded onto tempos or trucks that travel as far as Andheri, Vakola and other suburban parts of Bombay. Some fish travel out by taxis, baskets are loaded into the back carrier and top carrier of the yellow and black cabs and are seen leaving the gates.

At Sassoon docks, I learn a little about the world of the fisherfolk community in Bombay – what they do, how they relate to one another, what is acceptable and what is not. The physical extent of the wholesale market is large, with no rigid boundaries. There seems to be a spatial organisation that is known to the daily visitors. It is undemarcated and unclear initially to a first-time visitor. But, as you stay here long enough, you begin to notice it. There are patterns of movement and patterns of behaviour that seem to govern the functioning of the marketplace.

There are some questions that arise as you try to understand the nature of the trading practices here. How is functionality achieved in this exchange amongst the vendors and the customers in a seemingly chaotic place? What establishes trust between the people? What is the history of interactions or what are the unstated, unwritten laws of relationships within a fisherfolk community? It is a long process from wholesale to retail vendoring. This is not an organised, systemised operation like that of a Fishing Corporation with its efficient trawlers and its iceboxes. And yet, there seems to be an intangible order influencing the commodity exchange that brings the fish from the sea through a series of stakeholders right upto its final consumption at a home or a hotel in Mumbai.

Even a partial experience of the marketplace is substantial experience for one morning – memories to cherish, sights to always remember in your mind’s eye. Once you are in there, you become an insignificant, irrelevant speck within this sea of people.

How to get there : Any bus going to Colaba bus stand would be ideal. If you are taking a taxi, you must say ‘Sassoon Docks’ but mention that you need to go to the Fish market there, because the market entrance is further down the road from the Sassoon dock main gate. The entrance is next to the Women’s Graduate Union or the Amy Rustomjee hall. The market is at its busiest from 5:30am to 7:30am. It is open until one in the afternoon.

Other Bazaar tours in India :
Bazaar Tour 1 : Dadar Flower Market, Mumbai
Bazaar Tour 2 : Antique market, Mumbai
Bazaar Tour 3 : Varkala, Kerala
Bazaar Tour 4 : Gandhi Bazaar, Bangalore

Friday, April 16, 2010

Mulji Jetha market - a Textile Bazaar in Mumbai

The Mulji Jetha market in Mumbai is the largest textile market in Asia. It is a hundred and thirty-six year old market and located near the Zaveri Bazaar, in Kalbadevi. It was built by a few Bhatia families who came to Bombay from Kathiawad and Saurashtra and has 954 shops under one roof. It is most unusual in its planning and spreads out into street-like aisles that are covered with a roof. It has some of the old, charming skylights that only a few buildings in Bombay have today. The shops are mostly wholesale outlets.

Included below is a google earth image of the Kalbadevi and Crawford market area. I thought this image is a good indication of just how large this market is in its physical extent. Seen in the left upper corner of the image, the market occupies a huge part of the Kalbadevi area encompassing several streets and equipped with 24 entrance gates. In the lower right corner of the image is seen the Crawford market, which is the oldest fruit and vegetable market in Mumbai.
Source : Google Earth

The textile market belongs to the Mulji Jetha Market association whose members are the shop owners. In conversation with the Secretary of the Market association, Mr.Rajesh Patel, I learn that there is a board of directors comprising of ten members. If there is a new entrant or trader who wants to buy a shop in the market, he seeks the approval of the Board. A premium is fixed over the price of the purchase which is paid to the Market association. For a sale price of Rs.50 lakhs for a shop, the premium may be about Rs.15 lakhs. These funds are utilised for the maintenance of the market. It has a security service for its many gates and more than 15 sweepers for keeping the premises clean. The type of traders include wholesalers and semi-wholesalers. The grey cloth comes from Bhiwandi and from Echal Karanjit in Maharashtra; suiting fabric is from Bhilwada; sarees are from Surat and cotton fabric comes from Ahmedabad.

In India, the story of the rise of Dhirubhai Ambani, from a small trader to a large business tycoon is well known. He began by setting up his own yarn dealership in a small 10ft x 10ft space in Mulji Jetha Market, for which it is said, he paid an exorbitant rent of Rupees 150 a month because it had a telephone. I include here some excerpts from an Inaugural address by his son, Mukesh Ambani, Chairman & Managing Director of Reliance Industries at the launch of the Multicommodity Exchange :

“My father, Shri Dhirubhai Ambani, returned from Aden in February 1958. He started a small office in Masjid Bunder. It was then the nerve center for trading of spices. In the midst of the din and bustle of this market place, he had a small office. With two tables and a common care-of telephone. All in just 150 sq. ft. of space. From there he started trading in cardamom, dry ginger, turmeric, black pepper and other spices.”

“Then, in 1959-1960, came an opportunity to export textiles. Against exports, one could get a licence to import yarn. Dhirubhai Ambani used this opportunity to buy cloth in wholesale quantities from Mulji Jetha market and export it.”

“Yarn and textiles fancied him. He dreamed of having his own world-class textile manufacturing facility. This, over time, led to the Naroda textile unit. From Tamba Kata to largest Polyester producer and Mulji Jetha Market to Jamnagar, Reliance has come a long way. A journey founded on the dynamics of commodity markets.”

Why would a visit to such a textile market be of interest to anyone who is not in the textile business himself? I think what is interesting here is that the entire textile bazaar is dominated by Gujarati and Marwari owners. It is therefore also culturally different from other bazaars in Mumbai. In Mumbai, there were communities who came from different States in India to settle here. It is interesting to see in the Bazaars in Mumbai how each of these communities recreates as much as possible their own cultural milieu.

The people from Gujarat who own shops in the Mulji Jetha and Zaveri Bazaar area attract setting up of eateries that serve gujarati food. The arrangement inside their own shops usually consists of cotton mattresses covered with white linen placed on wooden or built-in platforms. These are how they like their places of business to be.

Below is an image from Patan, a town in Gujarat, which was once its capital. Patan is a place known for its hand-woven Patola sarees that can take 4-6 months to weave and are priced high. As noted in Wikipedia, Patan was a part of the Maratha state of Baroda from mid-eighteenth century until India's independence in 1947, when Baroda became part of Bombay state, which in 1960 was separated into Gujarat and Maharashtra. If you walk down the streets in Patan, the shops have a traditional look that you see replicated in the Mulji Jetha market in Mumbai.

How to reach there : It is walking distance from the Crawford market and can be reached either by train from the Victoria Terminus station, Masjid Bunder & Marine Lines station or by bus or taxi.

Other bazaars in Mumbai:
Fish market at Sasoon Docks
Antique market in Mumbai (at Chor Bazaar)
Dadar flower market
Street corner at Crawford market

Other posts about Mumbai:
Bollywood Posters
The Gateway and its small enterprises

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Gandhi Bazaar

This post is part of the Bazaar Tour Series. You can read here about Gandhi Bazaar: Street Vendor Eviction and about Pedestrianising Gandhi Bazaar.

The Gandhi Bazaar is a part of Basavanagudi, one of the older localities of this IT metropolis. It is a Street Bazaar, so you can get down anywhere along the street and start walking and exploring. On a festival day, such as Sankranti or Pongal (14th January) or Ugadi (first week of April) or Diwali (October or beginning November) Gandhi Bazaar has more lively shopping interactions and is a place to be a part of. On any given day of the year, the Bazaar opens at six in the morning and closes at nine in the evening.

The paths that take you towards the bazaar are territorialized by the informal sector, the paths within the market itself are patterns of human interaction and movement that are generated only to disappear again in a little while, to be created once more in another way. The vendor displays are simple creations that are changing and transforming themselves to attract and to sell better.

Amongst the shops that are very unique to this Bazaar are the Granthige stores i.e. shops that sell Puja items. I stop by at Ashwini Stores at the Vidyarthi Bhavan Circle. Besides all puja items, they also have Ayurvedic items, Dry fruits, Country drugs, Plastic covers, etc.

The other shops to look out for are the ones that sell local Kannadiga dry snacks, such as Holige (which is similar to the Maharashtrian Puran Poli), Jaggery & Peanut balls and Pickles. These often have nameboards that say, ‘Dealers in Condiments, Dry fruits and General Home products’. There is one off the Gandhi Bazaar Main road, on D.V.Gundappa Road.

As you walk along the main Gandhi Bazaar road, you see vendors stringing flowers into garlands with their dexterous hands. The jasmines (mallige), tuberoses, marigolds, asters and roses are coupled with leaves to make garlands for the temple deity or for a wedding ceremony. If you are in this area early morning, i.e. anytime between 5:30am to 10:00am, you can also step into the 'Corporation market', which is on the main road and is primarily a flower market.

There are shops along the Gandhi Bazaar main road that also sell Silk sarees. There is the Kancheepuram Silk Weavers'Co-operative Society shop. There is also the private Kancheepuram Silk showroom with a shopfront that is more modern.

When it is time to eat, there are two places that can be a worthwhile experience at Gandhi Bazaar. One of them is Vidyarthi Bhavan, on the Gandhi Bazaar main road. It was started in 1938 as an eating place that served students. It is known for its Benne (butter) masala dosas. Since this is the most popular item on the menu, you often see the waiter balancing several plates of dosas in his hand. It is not a sight you see anywhere else. From Monday to Thursday, it is open from 6:30am to 11:30am and 2:00-8:00pm. On Saturday & Sunday, it is open from 6:30am to 12noon and 2:30-8:00pm. It is closed on Fridays.

The Brahmins Café is the other very popular eatery here. You can walk to it from Gandhi Bazaar. It is on Rangarao road near Shankar Mutt. The menu lists Idli, Vada, Khara Baath, Kesari Baath and Tea/Coffee. It is open from 7am to 12noon and 4pm to 7pm. It is closed on Sundays. There is also the Kamat Bugle Rock, a great restaurant for a North Karnataka thali, on Bull Temple Road.

Gandhi Bazaar sits on land that has been an important part of Bangalore’s history. In the vicinity is the Bull Temple. Here the Nandi (Bull) actually belongs to a centuries old temple almost 2 km away – the Gavi Gangadhareshwara Temple. The book ‘Deccan Traverses – The Making of Bangalore’s Terrain’ by Anuradha Mathur & Dilip da Cunha says “The Nandi Bull is a celebration of the rock outcrop, a sculpted summit enclosed by a pavilion on eight columns and a circumambulatory” It further says “An inscription below the right foreleg of Nandi declares that the waters of the Vrishabhavati originate here. These waters join the Kaveri”.

You wonder if the Gandhi bazaar is a Temple Bazaar, because you realise that it is a bazaar for flowers and a bazaar for puja items. These are two important elements of a Temple bazaar anywhere in India. The Gandhi Bazaar is perhaps different from the Temple bazaar in Tiruvannamalai or the Temple Bazaar in Mylapore, Chennai where the bazaars are streets that lead right upto the Arunachaleswarar temple or the Kapaleeswarar temple respectively. However, from what it sells and from its geography, one could assume that it is a Temple Bazaar that is gradually being penetrated with modern-day consumerism.

How to reach there : It is an area well-known and can be reached by bus or by taxi or by an auto-rickshaw. If you ask a cab-driver or an auto-rickshawdriver to take you to ‘Gandhi Bazaar’, he will bring you there. You will know when you are there as you spot flower garland and banana leaf sellers all over.

More about Gandhi Bazaar:
Gandhi Bazaar: Street vendor Eviction
Pedestrianising Gandhi Bazaar
A Street Bazaar and the City (a film)
An afternoon in Festive Dussehra

Other Bazaars in Bangalore :
How "green" is our Bazaar?
Urban Structure-City Market & Russell Market

Bazaar tours in India :
Bazaar Tour 1 : Dadar Flower Market, Mumbai
Bazaar Tour 2 : Antique market, Mumbai
Bazaar Tour 3 : Varkala, Kerala