The myriad pleasures in Indian marketplaces
“Never mind the noise in the market, only mind the price of it please”, went a popular number many decades ago.
"Never mind the noise in the market, only mind the price of it please", went a popular number many decades ago.
"The consumer is the king", is a well-known principle in commerce. Consumer preferences drive market forces. And following the advent of the phenomena of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation, in the early 90s of the 20th century, market imperatives dictated the strategies for the growth and development of countries and their economies around the world for over four decades now.
Globalisation annihilated international borders and transformed the manner in which the affairs of governments of countries are conducted. Economies were restructured and structural adjustment assistance obtained from international organisations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Safety nets have been created to take care of those whom, inevitably, the advent of market forces impacted in an adverse manner. And, as I have had occasions to observe in this column earlier, the spirit of 'growth with justice' has yielded place to a new theme, namely, 'growth and justice'.
One encounters all sorts of markets in this world from the global to the village level. There are those like Harrods and Macey's which cater to the uppermost spectrum of wealthy consumers. And, at the other end of the spectrum, are those that can be reached only after arduous travel through serpentine lanes and streets in many cities of the world from London, to Cairo and Hyderabad.
There are many that specialise in commodities such as the Bombay Stock Exchange which deals in shares, the Pearl Exchange in Tel Aviv, deals in precious stones and those that deal with education, agricultural commodities such as jaggery or coconuts or, for that matter fish. And a visit to any of these is, indeed, a revealing and rewarding experience.
One often compares a noisy and disorderly situation to a 'fish market'. As Managing Director of the Andhra Pradesh State Fisheries Development Corporation my colleague K.V. Rao (who was the Chief General Manager of the Corporation), and I, visited the fishing harbour in Visakhapatnam one night in order to see, at first hand, what was going on. I have described elsewhere the lessons we learnt that night about the reality of fish marketing.
While my travels afforded an opportunity to visit many markets around the world, easily the most interesting place I visited was the Porta Portese market in Rome which functions every Sunday (just as the Sunday Market does, near the London Bridge). An unbelievable variety of commodities is offered for sale, and one can buy anything from a pair of cufflinks or a pill, to a television set, or even (quite seriously), a Jumbo Jet. With the added advantage that bargaining is not a taboo! There are, in addition, some very popular shops that sell excellent foodstuff too.
However, like many other places in Rome, one has to guard against pickpockets! The notoriety of the market has earned it international fame, so much so that even movies and poetry have found it as a subject fit to be addressed. One is not too sure whether developments, which began some years ago to regularise the establishments and the transactions, and bring them under the ambit of the law, are to be welcomed or regretted. After all, the grey area in which the market functioned was one of its endearing charms!
The city of Chennai literally abounds in marketplaces. Decades ago, there was the Moore Market, close to the Central Railway Station probably occupying the pride of place. Anna Salai (Mount Road when we were children), Pondy Bazar and Burma Bazar remain great shopping destinations to this day. One can walk around for hours merely doing window shopping or purchase a particular thing not easily available elsewhere. Hyderabad offers many interesting markets to visit, such as the Abids Centre, the Mozamjahi market and the Laad or Choodi Bazaar near the Charminar in the old city (known for pearls and bangles).
While Connaught Place (which also houses the Palika Bazar underground) and Khan Market are famous destinations in Delhi, especially for tourists, Chandni Chowk, one of the oldest in business markets of the city, offers the best variety. In fact one can find streets dedicated to commodities such as textbooks, electrical and sanitary goods for houses under construction and (yes) even parathas, of all things! Other shopping paradises are Meena Bazaar and Bengali market, each with its own unique charm and attraction.
The city of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), is one of the most enchanting cities in the world. Formerly the capital of India until the British shifted to Delhi it presents a unique and interesting picture which is a mix of old worldly charm and modern technological advances. Home to several cultural organisations and art forms, it has produced famous and eminent painters, musicians, writers and dancers.
Naturally enough there are many markets in this great city each famous for its own special background. While Chowringhee, with its many cinema halls, is well known to movie buffs, Crawford market is famous for fresh fruits and vegetables, as also props for parties and toys; and Ballygunge for electronic goods, furniture etc. New market, on the other hand, is a veritable paradise for shoppers and on offer products from shoes and saris to flowers and rare cheeses. While College Street, which is fully dressed up during the Dussehra-Diwali festival, is a literal haven for bibliophiles the Burra Bazaar market is one of the largest, and particularly popular during festive seasons.
As Registrar of Cooperative Societies I encouraged a friend of mine to start a Cooperative Society called FRESH in order to address the gross mismatch between the price realized by the vegetable grower and that paid by the consumer, largely on account of the mischief of middlemen. We tried the idea of selling cleaned, graded and packed vegetables. The idea did not catch on quite as much as I expected.
One could sense that the customers, especially housewives, much preferred the personal visit to the market, so that they could touch, feel and choose the vegetables they wanted to buy. Which is probably also why the attempt at marketing groceries and perishables, such as vegetables, fruits and meat and fish, has not lived up to initial promise.
(The writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh)