No words can ever capture the liveliness of traditional Indian markets. These places while intend to meet the basic needs of the people, but in fact end up being a persistent source of entertainment for everyone – shopkeepers who meet all kind of customers, buyers looking for something and landing up buying couple of extra things, explorers like me who wonder at the high energy of these places. Last week a photographer friend and I walked around the Monda market in Secunderabad, the market most locals know for the fresh fruits and vegetables and for wedding items.
Our first conversation was with Mr. Khan who manages a 50+-year-old perfume or Itr shop. Colorful glass bottles containing fragrances lined the walls of his shop, until we noticed the branded modern day perfumes that were placed in the cases below the counter. He obviously was in love with his original oil based perfumes that were made in a factory somewhere around the shop. He fondly told us that the oil based local perfumes are so much better than the new age alcohol based one which evaporate as soon as the bottle is opened. I asked him what are the most favorite fragrances of the current generation, and he kept quite. Then he nostalgically said earlier people used to have their own tastes in fragrances, they will choose what went with their personality, sometimes even requesting us to make a new one by mixing some base fragrances, but now they all buy what the perfume companies advertise. There is no personal taste left. We are also forced to sell that, otherwise the shop may close down. Well, we would certainly miss the colorful, shaped and carved small Itr bottles in our homes and in bazaars in the years to come as we bow down to the so called globalization and loose our individual tastes.
200 years old Ujjaini Mahakali temple, famous for its Bonalu festival celebrations, is located in the road going to Monda market from James Street police station. Temple has stone pillars with traditional Hindu signs and symbols carved on them. On a Tuesday afternoon, as we reached the temple, we saw an auction of saris going on right outside the temple. On enquiring we found out that the saris were offered to the Goddess by the devotees and are being auctioned now so that a living Goddess can actually use them, of course for a price. Interesting part was the buyers were all women and we saw the auctions being in the range of Rs 200-300 per Sari. The street outside the temple is full of small shops selling colorful Pooja items like any other temple street but an unusual thing in this street are shops selling Kites and Charkhis or spools that hold the Kite thread. The colors of Kites and the Charkis add a riot of color in an already colorful street. Inside the temple we saw some women doing Rahu pooja as it was Rahu kaal, the inauspicious time of the day. A unique aspect of this pooja was the diyas or lamps made by turning the squeezed lemon peels. A woman told me this puja is done when a wish that you asked the Goddess for is fulfilled. In the dark interiors of the temple, clusters of diyas shone like a ray of hope in a depressed heart.
There is another interesting temple or shall I say a structure that might have been a temple once upon a time, with statues on the first floor and shops on the ground floor. There is a small staircase that leads you to the first floor if you want to see the statues closely. Color was scattered on the street as piles of glass bangles, as spools of kite thread or Charkis, as art on the wall, as musical instruments, as bridal makeup items, as quintessential bridegroom’s sehra, as piles of colorful fruits and vegetables, as piles of flowers in various colors, as colorful garments, as bunches of keys at the key repair stalls, as dyers dying clothes and as brightly colored horns of a buffaloe accompanying a sadhu. In fact as I was clicking the pictures of a colorful display of women’s dresses, the shopkeeper came out and asked ‘Are you a designer, trying to copy my designs?’ and I had a hearty laugh and I asked him, ‘Look at my clothes, can I be a designer?’ and his look said,’No, I don’t think so’, and he was relieved to know that I am just a curious traveler.
Little ahead is a white colored Old Jail building, which is now a bustling market. You can see that the structure is old with colonial style pillars and windows. The upper storeys seem like godowns and the lower corridors are now shops. I wanted to go inside the building so I circled it as much as was possible, but there was no way to enter the place. I wonder if the shops are legal or place has just been encroached upon. If it was a jail, it must be a public property unless the Govt has sold it.
In a lane next to the Jail building is an 80-year-old house that is probably the most orante house in the locality. Bright green and yellow colors add to the intricately carved metal work that adorns the house. A typical early 20th century house has two shops flanking the main entrance of the house, indicating that the house probably belonged to a trader or a merchant. We spoke to the owner of the house and he graciously showed us the inside of the house though he allowed taking pictures only from the outside. The interiors of the house were as ornate as the exterior. The house, not too big from inside and made on an irregular shaped plot, has typical courtyard style architecture, with open roofs to bring in ample light. When we told him that we are interested in looking at the house because it is a heritage structure of Hyderabad, he promptly said ‘No, this is not yet 100 years old, so not a heritage structure’. Instead of a joy that should be associated with being the owner of a beautiful heritage structure he was reluctant to call it so. Is it because the Govt heritage rules take away the independence of the owner of the property to do anything with the property?
The walk ended at the fruit and vegetable market, where anyone would be tempted to pick them up for the freshness they epitomize. I did pick up two not so regularly available fruits, one that I had never tasted – a roasted palm fruit and one that you do not get very often – water chestnuts. There are boards and art work on walls telling you about the merchants but no blatant advertising in your face with deals on everything from undergarments to maldives holidays.
Even a mundane market in a city has so much to offer to an explorer if we can leave our comfort zones, step out and open ourselves to these experiences.