Monday, September 6, 2010

Visiting Russell Market

With St. Mary's feast and Ramzan drawing to a close, Russell Market (in Shivajinagar) is bustling. The elegant St. Mary's basilica rises on one side of the road and the arched facade of Russell Market stands stoically on the other (the two are separated by a muddy strip where cars are washed and parked, cows and goats fed etc.). A whole row of carts and stalls selling plastic flowers and odds and ends have placed themselves outside the church and devotees garbed in the distinctive peach-orange sarees and shirts flood this part of the street.

On the other side, there are large hoardings from the politicians wishing people a happy Ramzan festival, restaurants with large vessels simmering on low heat until sunset (or moonrise - when the feasting begins), parts of mutton being swiftly and efficiently dispensed to eager buyers - mostly men in their traditional white prayer caps.

I like Russell Market for its corridors overflowing with fresh flowers and all manner of fruits and vegetables, its noisy fish market, its bustle and chatter - sounds of people bargaining, gossiping...

I have my friends there - shop owners and their assistants who I have been visiting over the years. I meet the fish guy, who loudly yells an exorbitant price for tiger prawns, then whispers a much reduced version in my ear, saying, "This price is from my heart." I succumb.

On to the tomatoes - where I learn (in confidence) that many of the varieties being passed off as local are actually hybrid. Hmmmm - "No option," the tomato man shakes his head sadly. "If you were to see the local tomatoes at this time, you wouldn't even want to touch them." He invites me home for biryani, at some unspecified time in the future. I smile and agree, thank him.
"How is the fasting?" I ask him.
"Not bad - here in Bangalore we are comfortable, but out brothers in Gujarat are finding it so hot that tears run from their eyes in the afternoons."
I shake my head in commiseration.
A prospective customer arrives. The tomato man shoos him away. "Can't you see I'm talking?" The man nods comprehendingly and wanders off.

All the shop keepers I visit in this market happen to be Muslim. There are mainly two kinds of traders that I see- local Muslims and men from the adjoining state of Kerala (often Hindus or Christians). I tend to gravitate naturally to the local Muslims as they are a friendly, gentle community, fond of exchanging notes. The Keralites, perhaps as they come from further away, tend to be efficient, taciturn and business-like.

On to the greens man, whom I haven't seen in a long time. He explains that he is diabetic and can no longer reach early in the morning. He pulls out a bunch of fresh spring onion greens and a mass of dill - the freshest possible. This will go well with the free slices of fish that have been slipped in by the side of the tiger prawns.

I nod and move on to my most favourite shopkeeper - an old school teacher with an amazing eye for tiny, local vegetable varieties and a penchant for old Hindi songs and football. He has already filled my bag with things he considers I ought to eat this week and moves me on with a wave when I stop to pay. "Go and finish your shopping. Where will the money go?"

Fruit - last on the list and the fruit seller has a unique way of introducing his ware. "This is from near your homeland - the land of Kapil Dev," he grins. Golden apples! After eons! Two kilos! And what about those big, red apples? "From the land of Richard Hadlee, Martin Crowe..." I refuse. His brother forgets to return my change and the fruit seller apologizes . "My brother's getting woozy with all this fasting," he says, and bestows hundreds of good wishes on me and my family as I gather my bags.

The new supermarkets are fine for convenience but one is denied the delight of getting that free handful of green chillies, that extra lemon for a rupee less, the tiniest cucumbers placed in one's bag - even if one doesn't really need them - and all those minutes spent in exchanging notes on the best recipes ever, the lives of everyone's relatives, what's cheap and what's expensive and more. And when I come home, I know that each ingredient has a story to tell; for better or for worse, rustling up a meal is always more fun when the process begins in Russell Market.

1 comment:

Sujay D said...

You got any clue about, why people during the time of St.Mary's feast use peach-orange color saree or shirt. When I googled I got your blog on top as the result.

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