Malleswaram’s vendors lend more than just colour to the area
Whether it’s flowers for poojas, vegetables for dinner, peanuts to snack on or garish plastic garlands (whatever their use may be), there’s a lot competing for attention on Malleswaram’s pavements. Sampige Road, the most commercial part of the neighbourhood, is flooded with shops — expansive, tiny and mid-sized — but the most alluring aspect of its commercial activity easily rests with the vendors and hawkers who provide the bursts of colour that characterise the area. On either side of 8th Cross stretches a large informal street market, with a jumble of fresh produce and plastic items carpeting the way at ankle and waist level; off this road, near the Ganesha temple, lies the fruit and vegetable market commonly known as the old market, said to be one of the oldest in Bangalore.
It’s hard to tell where this part of the market begins and ends. Colourful piles of fresh herbs and vegetables line the narrow lanes around the temple, while one section appears to be a designated area for the old market, with roofing and a board announcing a welfare association for the vendors there, and another boasting affiliation with the National Centre for Labour.
Lakshmamma mans a stall on the road just outside the sheltered area, where she sells a range of items from sweet potato to banana flowers. She sources her items from that great font of fresh produce — K.R. Market — and says her stall, set up by her husband’s grandfather, has been around for 60 years.
Admitting that business is uncertain, she says all of her family has been in the fruit and vegetable business, adding that as she and her husband never learned any other trade, they couldn’t afford to educate their children, who now have their own stalls at the old market. Sometimes, to make ends meet, she even borrows money from her customers.
Bond with customers
Nearby, her son Y. Chandra chops raw mangoes for customer Gomathi Sethurathna into small, bite-size chunks — the perfect size for pickle. Once a resident of Malleswaram, Gomathi moved to Vidyaranyapura around eight years ago, but she continues to make the 10-km journey once a week to pick up her groceries.
Gomathi, who has come to the market along with her sister, shrugs when asked why she bothers to travel so far. It’s a hot day, and the two elderly ladies hold on to the vendor’s umbrella for support as Chandra chops away. “I’ve been coming here for years,” she says, exchanging a friendly glance with Chandra. “I know him, he’s familiar.”
Semblance of security
Chandra is joint secretary of the Malleswaram Old Market Vegetable, Fruit and Flower Vendors’ Welfare Association. Members say they aren’t sure if being part of the association gives them more confidence or serves as protection against fickle residents and civic authorities, as the association is only one-and-a-half years old.
The main woes of the 150-odd vendors under the association are in the form of competition. The proliferation of malls and supermarkets in Malleswaram has meant less business for them, as has the official market area near 13th Cross, where, as vendor M. Manjula sees it, “international businessmen” sell imported fruit in fancy packaging.
The association was formed, says president and fruit vendor Muni Narayana, to safeguard against problems with the authorities, but so far, they’ve had no trouble on that front.
Smaller vendors haven’t been so lucky, Muni Narayana points out, adding that footpath vendors selling small quantities of fresh produce or plastic goods are often targeted by the police and the civic authorities. Bhuvaneswari Raman, member of faculty at Jindal Global University, studies markets in Bangalore. She recalls conversations with the petty vendors near the old market, in which they expressed apprehension about their future as they received little support from residents.
The National Policy on Urban Street Vendors 2009 recognises the positive role of urban street vendors in providing “essential commodities to people at affordable prices and at convenient places”, as well as their Constitutional right to a livelihood.
Ashwath Narayan, the local MLA, admits that residents have mixed feelings towards the market on and near 8th Cross. Some Malleswaram residents do complain that the unofficial market hinders parking and obstructs traffic.
But going by the numbers that frequent their stalls, many are quite happy to overlook this.