“What an interesting journey to the land of rich culture, fairytale palaces, epic forts, interesting people. Noise, spice, heat and colour it’s all there”
It was 44 degrees in India and I see myself in a dizzying, chaotic open market. Who cares about the heat, continuous honking of cars, smell of masala and korma, all I care about is the psychedelic colours of the market. Colours can make one feel excitement, joie de vivre. All day long an Indian market is filled with throngs of people, buyers, sellers, merchants and sightseers. It is a picture of bewildering variety of people pushing each other in the dusty crowded streets. The shops are nothing fancy, a booth, and a hole in a wall, the shop owners spread their wares, squat beside them and wait for customers.
A confectioner’s shop draws attention and everyone seems to have a sweet tooth by the boxes of sweets on hand. My favourite is rasmalai but I had to control my craving for health reasons. Today, confectioner’s shops also sell cooked food such as chicken biryani, a variety of dal dishes, parathas, naan, chapattis and chicken korma. People from all walks of life are seen in one place eating with their hands. It’s a very delightful and tempting place to experience the joy of eating Indian food.
One has to be aware though of the added inches to the waist and hips. Walking about one hundred metres, I see a happy tea vendor preparing the delicious masala tea to the enthusiasm of customers. Masala tea, I swear I can drink non-stop. From another stall is the spice supplier. From this stall the vendor provides everyday needs for spices, wheat, lentils, flour, peas and sugar but finding a bag to pack them seems to be the customer’s concern. Along the street are corn vendors, grilling corns under the heat of the sun. The result is a semi charred corn in a cob; browned, nutty bits that really make it taste, well, grilled to perfection. People walking by can’t resist the tempting aroma, throw a coin and get a piece to munch while walking.
Next is a trinket seller, no glittering shop of ornaments but an improvised space exactly like the rest. There is no obvious order. You will find just about anything and everything in one section and repeated in another section. There are other air conditioned shops that sell clothing materials and readymade Punjabis, saris, kurtis and salwal. The shops looks grand compared to the others but they also demand high prices for their merchandise.
As I walk further from the street market, there are rows of high end clothes shops. Most of the clothes are of high quality, hand dyed in bright colours which they said will last for years. But there are also some merchants who sell poor quality materials that fall apart after just one wash. I am good at bargaining, thanks to years of practice but am not so interested anymore as I used to because I have bought a lot of silk and muslins on impulse but have no use for them today due to a scarcity of seamstresses so piles of materials are kept in storage for many years.
While I was checking on 100% cashmeres, I noticed a booth selling lassi, a yoghurt drink. I left the cashmere booth and got engrossed in watching the man prepare the lassi which sells for 10 rupees per glass. Lassi is a crowd pleaser not only among the locals but foreigners as well who are lined up to taste this delicious drink, I know how to make lassi and watching the maker was a confirmation that I was doing it the same way he does. Despite the temptation, I was able to fight it as I was not sure if it would be good for my system.
It is such a pleasure, a visual delight to be with the locals in their market. From sombre earth-toned surroundings. The kaleidoscope of wild colours changes the whole atmosphere. The market with heaps of flaming red roses, orange dandelions and sweet scents is a refreshing splash of cool water under the scorching heat. These markets are not just for selling and buying things. It’s a melting pot of cultures and traditions. It’s the most interesting place to be… meet people… interact with locals, learn their ways and appreciate their culture. Bright smiling eyes of men and women fill me with excitement as I visit my most favourite places anywhere I go in the world… the market.
It was very intriguing to see various sari materials in silk, cotton, muslin and chiffon with colourful embroideries and patterns that I began collecting – as many as my heart desires. Like carpets, some of the embroidered saris have stories that I find irresistible and which give the material a lot of appeal and value. After a trip down alleys browsing, haggling and in the middle of chaos, I go back to my hotel with a feeling of immense satisfaction. There is still much to be learned and to explore but that would be for next time.