Saturday, May 14, 2011

Market Diary: Sassoon Docks in Mumbai

GUEST POST by Laura Mannering. I love the colour and organised chaos of Indian markets. From the myriad blooms of Mumbai’s Dadar flower bazaar to the swirling incense, stacks of jaggery and bright cones of kum kum powder at Mysore’s Devaraja market; the pungent spice baskets in Delhi or the neatly-arranged displays of coconuts, limes and oranges at KR market in Bangalore.

There’s always hustle and bustle – but at Mumbai’s Sassoon Docks, it jumps up a notch. This is fast-paced fishy business, the local Koli fishermen delivering new catch from boats just come in, and their wives and daughters haggling hard with wholesale buyers. The competition between vendors is fierce – if you snooze, you lose.

Re-reading my diary entry, from the early-morning visit I made, transported me back to that long pier, packed with people and produce.

‘There was an absolute mass of people – women to-ing and fro-ing from the end of the dock, filling their plastic bowls with fish from the boats. They sell the catch to dealers on the dockside, again, mainly women. These ladies pile the fish into baskets and sell them on to individual buyers – there’s bargaining, crowds, wads of cash being flashed. We were propelled out of the way a dozen times. There’s a constant back and forth, no chance to stop.

People sit on the edge of the dock, watching the boats. On the vessels themselves, young boys and twenty-something men haul up baskets of fish from the depths of the hold. They stand waist-deep in a square hole in the deck, cold steam rising around them from the blocks of ice below, used to refrigerate the fresh catch. 

The fish from the hold are emptied onto the deck, hosed down and put into baskets. These are then thrown from the boat to someone standing high on the dockside. Miraculously, the full hampers never seem to flip over in mid-air.

Crabs, eels, calamari, shrimps, prawns, tiny fish, enormous fish, the catch at Sassoon Docks is abundant. The smell in the air is sweet and sickly, almost barnyard-like, rather than fishy. I can still taste it in the back of my throat.

On the way out, I chatted to a Japanese couple, togged up in plastic waterproofs (head-to-toe, the woman with immaculate make-up, to top off the outfit). They lived in Mumbai and were shopping for fish at Sassoon Docks for the first time. ‘We’re Japanese, we can’t live without fish!’ the man smiled, before turning back to select his dinner.'

Laura Mannering is a London-based journalist and market lover. You can visit her travel blog ‘World Out There’at