Friday, June 22, 2012

The 'Second to None' Flea Market

Some time ago, I went to the ‘Second-to-None’ flea market here in Bangalore. I was thrilled to get second-hand DVD films for half-price and some for less than half-price! All of us who went had come back picking up something that was useful to us and had been useful before to someone else. This was such a good idea, we thought, to have a place where you could bring used goods, and recycle them. I found out that this was an initiative started by Anu Gummaraju and asked her if we could do an interview. I’m sharing it here:

As a person who conceptualised ‘Second to None’, could you tell us about yourself & the initiative?
I have been in the content and communication stream for over 14 years. I was a sub editor and a writer for 2 years, before I joined Infosys as a technical writer. In Infosys, I worked in the Communication Design Group, first as a writer, then as a senior manager, on content development, content design, and content usability.

Though corporate life gives you time for little else, I had always been conscious of wastage and recycling and conserving resources. I would try to practise it in little ways at home. After I quit full time work two and a half years ago, I started thinking and practising this to a greater extent. I was looking for ways to recycle used goods in Bangalore, and there were no options that seemed feasible. Apart from some Gujri markets and the Avenue Road on Sundays, there was no concept of a flea market where one could buy and sell used goods in Bangalore.

So, on June 18th, one year ago, I started an online group on Facebook - ‘Second to None (220)’. It was a platform for people to share ideas on recycling, and buy and sell their used goods. I spoke to Reena Chengappa and Shilpa Kamath, old friends who were also passionate about green living, and they agreed to come on board as co-organizers.

How and when did the Flea market begin? 
At the same time that the online FB group was started, we had the physical flea market in mind, as it would be the real thing, to give Bangaloreans a flea market experience, with used goods, collectibles, in an open, fun atmosphere. We had the first physical market in July 2011. By this time, the online group had about a hundred members and when we spoke about the flea market online, there were so many enthusiastic responses from members who said they would come and sell / buy. So, many of the sellers and visitors were members of the online group. We had some coverage in Bangalore Mirror as well before the flea market and that brought in more sellers and buyers. We had 25 sellers over two days in the first market, which was held at Jaaga on Double Road. This seemed like the perfect space to have a market, and we have had all our markets there.

Who are your customers and what do they enjoy the most about your Flea market?
Our customers are ‘Second to None’ members who are keen on recycling. Since we’ve started, we have had word reach out to more of the public and today, customers are people who are making an effort at conserving resources, reducing waste and also looking for good deals. They find products which are in great working condition, but cost much less than new products.

Do you see any similarities (of this Flea market) to a typical ‘Indian Bazaar’?
The casual atmosphere that our markets have are very much like Indian bazaars, I guess. We have stalls, some people bring carts and other bazaar-like ways of selling their stuff. We have some food as well.

Are there experiences from flea markets in India or elsewhere in the world that you would be able to share?
I have not been to any flea markets in India - where you can actually buy used goods. In the US, it used to be a great way of finding treasures, collectibles, vintage stuff. We used to enjoy shopping at flea markets for those. We would also look for good deals on household things. So now, we are in a small way recreating that kind of an experience, where, in our markets, people are selling collectibles, vintage items, used household goods.

Do you see this as a replicable model in the Indian urban setting?
Yes! Every community / area can probably have a regular flea market. All it takes is some space and interested volunteers to do some minimal organising. We are not used to this culture in India. In fact, buying second hand goods, as they are called, is frowned upon by many. So, it is a matter of changing our mindset. And once you start, you see how many people there are who embrace the idea. We are 3600+ members today and have inspired people in six other cities to start similar groups.

When will your next flea market take place and how can people participate in it?
Our next market is slated for July 1st week or so, we have not yet finalised the date. It will be bigger than the previous ones. We have also had organisations like Goonj, who collect and distribute used clothes, toys, books and household goods to people across India, partnering with us. We will have them and a few more, collecting donations of goods by people, at the next market. If you'd like to come to our flea market or join our group, do check out: Second to None (220)

Friday, June 08, 2012

Buddha festival at Namdroling Monastery

We walked into the Namdroling Monastery through its painted gates in that quiet afternoon. There came upon us a stillness that halted our steps and our thoughts. A performance that was a prayer within a square courtyard and rows and rows of Tibetan monks in orange and dark red robes sitting on all sides. A few monks chanted, a few counted beads in their hand whilst in the centre of the space; there was the slow movement and the slow chanting of the performers. It was a quiet chanting, that those who chanted could hear and not others. The sounds of drums and cymbals as if coming from somewhere far away.

We had come here on a day when the Buddha festival was going on at the Monastery. According to the Tibetan calendar, the month of June is a special month for practice since the enlightenment and parinirvana of Buddha falls on the 15th day of the month. This is known as Saga Dawa Dhuechen. The Dhuechen are the 10th and 15th days of the month and the fourth tibetan lunar month is called Saga Dawa. The Losar cham (Lama dance) is performed during this time and we had a chance to see it that day.

The Namdroling Monastery is in Bylakuppe, the largest Tibetan settlement in India, near Kushalnagar, in Mysore district. This is the link to the official website of the Namdroling Monastery. This Tibetan settlement is about 82 km from Mysore city and 220 km from Bangalore. The monastery was established by His Holiness Pema Norbu Rinpoche in 1963 and is also known as the Golden Temple. In 1978, the Ngagyur Nyingma Institute, a Center for Buddhist studies and research was established here. It houses five hundred monks studying the Buddhist sutras and tantras in a nine year program. The monks graduate to become Khenpos and are then sent to teach in different Nyingmapa (a lineage of Tibetan Buddhism) monasteries and Centers of buddhist learning.

I came across this really interesting website of the Tibet Oral History Project - which has interviews of Tibetans living in India - stories from the last generation that had lived in a free, unoccupied Tibet and who have now lived in exile for several years, many of them in Bylakuppe.

At the festival that day, there were between the rows and rows of seated monks, a few monks standing and walking around. They were not chanting, they were selling food. They held in plastic bags and plastic crates several items for sale. There were cold drinks, packaged drinking water, potato chips and slices of watermelon. How long had the monks been sitting here in this square? Was this meant to be uninterrupted prayer? There was also hot chai and cold buttermilk being served without a charge. A few monks walked along the sides and the seated monks bought what they needed, a snack or a drink, to sustain for a while.

This experience at the Buddha festival that day made me reflect on the ‘act of consumption’ and the ‘act of restraint’. I think these thoughts came because what we saw that afternoon was a congruence of both. On the one hand, we need to sustain our body and consumption becomes a part of our daily life. On the other hand, we need to sustain our mind that seeks peace and contentment and restraint seems to be the path to follow.

At the Namdroling Monastery, as in other monasteries, the monks who immerse themselves in the teachings of the Buddha have exercised restraint in the way they live. Outside of the Monastery, it is the ‘act of consumption’ that takes precedence over everything else. We buy clothes, we buy food, we buy gold, we buy books and we buy furniture. We shop and we consume. I thought perhaps the Bazaar becomes then the embodiment of this consumption and its various hues.

There are also the temple bazaars where what we buy, we offer to our Gods – sometimes its flowers, sometimes its incense. The Temple bazaar is a place where we mark time before or after our prayers. It continues to be an ‘act of consumption’ that falls on our path of momentary restraint and holiness. The bazaar around the Mylapore Temple in Chennai, like other temple bazaars, is about daily necessities, religious bonding and periodic festivities. In the temple town of Tiruvannamalai, there is a central marketplace for both the devotee and the common man. As people go about the town and the marketplace, some consciously seek spiritual attainment and others fill their lives with days of labour, reaching sometimes the same destination without seeking it.

It seems to me that in every bazaar and in every moment in our lives, the act of restraint and the act of consumption emerge from within us quite in the same way, for one there is the temple and the monastery, for the other – the bazaar.

Related Posts:
the Tibetans at the Cliff
Mylapore Temple Bazaar, Chennai
Market streets of Tiruvannamalai