A trip down memory lane

It is 6.30 in the morning. Most of Bengaluru is still fast asleep. The streets are bereft of traffic, barring the occasional pedestrian scurrying for a cup of tea and shops just opening up.

The scene changes completely as I turn left from St. Marys Basilica and arrive at my destination — Russell Market in Shivajinagar, one of the oldest marketplaces in the city.

The old clock towers, pillars and the dingy market area almost transport you back in time to an era, before the sanitised air conditioned malls and supermarkets changed our shopping experiences completely.

The market is choc-a-bloc with shoppers and traders, selling and buying everything from vegetables and fruits and meat products to a large variety of flowers, the occasional stationery items and assorted items. At the entrance,

I am greeted by a waft of jasmine flowers, freshly brought in from City Market. Illiyas M., a flower trader has been selling flowers in Shivajinagar for two decades now. Surrounded by patrons selecting various flowers, he says, “Flowers are needed for every activity, from birth and death to marriages and political meetings etc.

Our day starts at 3 a.m. when we head to the flower market and pick up the best quality flowers. Election times are great for us, since politicians buy huge garlands for their leaders. Many people also buy flowers to decorate their houses for various occasions. While roses and jasmines are popular, some customers also prefer exotic flowers for decorations.”

As I walk through the flowers section, I run into Akram Mohammad, who is busy setting up a fresh batch of fruits at his store. “I have been up from midnight and have been sourcing a fresh batch of supplies. We got a batch of fresh Alphonsho mangoes from Maharashtra. We sell all sorts of fruits, from Australian pears to kiwis from New Zealand, dragon fruits from Thailand, almonds from Kashmir and litchis from Uttarakhand. I have regular customers and occasional foreigners, who come for the old world feel of marketplaces. Though the city has changed in the past two decades, this market has remained fairly unchanged. I am happy that our customers continue to repose their faith in us. I cannot dream of leaving the market. We work throughout the year, taking a break only on Fridays. Most of the traders are up at three everyday and go to bed only at 11.30. in the night.”

Manoj Kumar, an architect at a firm on M.G. Road is one of his first customers of the day. “I stay in an apartment on Richmond Road and find that most of the vegetables and fruits I get are not fresh and start going bad in a couple of days. The stock I get here is always fresh. Though, it may not be air conditioned like a supermarket, I like to pick up my weekly groceries here. It helps to get everything under one roof. I also pick up different varieties of dates and dry fruits from the market.”

Homemaker Rashida Begum from Hebbal remembers coming to Russell market in the 1980s. “We used to stay in Cox Town and would walk down to the market. The market has not changed much. I know most of the fruit and meat vendors here. I feel more comfortable picking up vegetables and meat here, than the refined confines of a mall. I think places like Russell Market offer a glimpse into a world that is fast slipping by and replaced by dead concrete structures with no tales of their own.”

I am introduced to Mohammad Idrees Choudhary, who is the third generation owner of Delicious, a dry fruit shop in the market and secretary of the market association. He says, “I have grown up in this market. It is almost like another mother. I still remember a time when the clock tower had a functional clock. The market was set up by the British in the 1850s and used to be an auction area. Russell Market as a separate entity in itself was created in 1927 and has grown to housing 400 stalls. We get the fresh produce from nearby areas, with farmers selling it directly to us. Most of the traders have been here for generations.”

He adds, “The market is built on a water body of sorts and that keeps it cool during the summers and warm during the winters. The pillars had come from England and continued to be used. Fruits and fresh meat is the most popular item. Many fish merchants use the available water to tend to different varieties of fish. The location is central to the city of Bengaluru.”

As I munch on dry dates, Idrees goes on, “Much of the market was destroyed in a blaze in 2012 and there were plans to build a mall in this area. We had to face some tough times. However, we have a loyal customer base and cannot imagine leaving this place and shifting elsewhere. Our identity is tied to this historic market.”

It is almost eight in the morning when I head to the meat market where butchers are chopping up pieces of meat and de scaling mounds of fish and prawns. One of the butchers looks up and says, “Once the monsoons set in, it is tough to get fresh seafood stocks. Most of our supplies come from the east coast, especially Kakinada. We source fresh stock everyday. I have been here for almost 10 years. Almost all the fruits and vegetables and meat products that are available in the market pass through Russell market. It is the best place to get fresh products.”

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2022 7:29:28 PM |

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