Bengali, Oriya, and various dialects of Hindi can heard at the market. The physical features of the clientele too betray the fact that they come from outside the State.
“Assi rupay, assi rupay (80 rupees),” calls out a salesman, brandishing a pair of jeans at a makeshift market set up outside the Putharikandam Maidan at East Fort in the city.
The weekly market in the heart of the city is, without fail, up and ready by eight in the morning every Sunday, complete with stalls heaped with all sorts of clothing and accessories, little counters selling rather wilted-looking fruits, and an enclosure selling cigarettes that is hidden from sight by the number of people thronging it.
What is unusual about this market, which appears similar to any such temporary establishment, is that it caters almost exclusively to migrant labourers living in and around the city.
Bengali, Oriya, and various dialects of Hindi can heard at the market. The physical features of the clientele too betray the fact that they come from outside the State. Digging through layers of clothes to find something to their liking, examining wallets and belts, and clutching shopping bags with ‘Rayamand’ printed on them, these migrants fuel business in this little Sunday market.
“Very few local people come here,” says Nazeer from Manacaud who runs a stall selling wallets, belts, and mobile phone pouches. Buttressing his observation is Rajiv from the next booth. “Say a 1,000 people come to the market. Of these, probably 40 will be local people who generally come to the market after visiting the Pazhavangady Ganapathy temple across the road.”
Nazeer says that almost every Sunday, the area is packed with the migrant youth. He has an explanation for the scattered crowd this Sunday. “It’s not hard to figure out. It is the first of the month, it is a dry day, and for these youth, an integral part of going out on their off day is a drink,” he says. The incessant afternoon rain also puts off customers, with a few sellers even shutting up shop.
“It’s always raining here,” complains Sumit, a 20-year-old Bengali who does plumbing work at a construction site near Medical College. Though the monsoon rain this year has been scant, others around him nod in agreement. The rain, the food, and the language are the most frequent complaints voiced by many of the workers. “Nobody speaks or understands Hindi here,” says Sumit, incredulously. “Maybe 10 per cent, but even they can just about manage.”
Another worker from Bengal, Vivek, bemoans the abundance of ‘kari patta’ or curry leaves in the food he is served. He explains that his 13-hour shift at a stone-crushing factory near Kollam leaves with him hardly any time to cook.
He says the market serves as an ideal hang-out spot, a social gathering where he is able to meet others from his State.
A jovial and colourful atmosphere prevails in the market where the shopkeepers learn to speak a smattering of Hindi to tempt customers and to counter their attempt at bargaining. Despite the downpour, determined shoppers persist, huddled under umbrellas, going through the ware on display under waterproof sheets.
The market has been functioning smoothly for the past two years. But soon, with the renovation of the Maidan and the setting up of permanent stores, it will cease to exist as the area where it comes up will be converted into a parking zone.
“We will be evicted once it starts functioning. I do not have lakhs to offer for an enclosure inside, so I will have to figure out a new spot for Sundays,” says Nazeer.