Vegetable markets in India are a messy place. The ones that retail the produce are less dirty. The wholesalers leave a lot to be desired. It was my first visit to the Alandur wholesale market and it brought back memories of a similar shopping establishment of my childhood called ‘Monda market’ located far away in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad in another state. My wife had asked me if I could help with the weekly purchase and I agreed.
The entry to the Alandur market is through a narrow road and I had to leave my vehicle by the way side, on this road that meanders through the locality bordering the market. There are small shops selling betel nuts, vermillon, turmeric powder and many such items at the gate. It was Saturday and towards noon and the place was filled with humanity jostling about, making their way in and out of here. We were close to the end of a group trying to gain entry into this place. A burqa clad woman behind me asked me to surge forward. I pointed to the throng ahead and offered that she could go ahead and try to succeed where I was failing. This was no time for fights as everyone knew the predicament of everybody else.
Once past the gate, we were in a thoroughfare that reminded me of a walled-city with sellers selling their wares. There were vegetable sellers, and grain merchants on both sides, lining up the narrow corridor. The crowd here was seemingly less as compared to what we had been through thus far. We turned to our left and a way seemed to open up through the walls. We found ourselves at a wide hall. The area was filled with shops, larger compared to the small vendors at the gates, and at the thoroughfare, selling several varieties of vegetables. At many places, the floor was strewn with vegetables that might have fallen down from a buyer’s bag, or, pushed down from their baskets, carelessly, by people.
We stopped at one shop were a busy seller was weighing scales, filling bags, and vociferously calculating the cost of produce purchased by his customers. It seemed so strange that he did not find the need of a pen, or paper, or, in this era – a calculator. He seemed to dispense off his ever growing group of customers with ease as he continued with his job of filling trays, weighing scales, calculating the cost and emptying the purchase in the customers bags. To accept payments, he directed the customers to a woman sitting at the side of the shop. Once in awhile a customer would ask her for a bag and she would direct him or her to help themselves from a satchel of plastic bags let to hang from a wire, from the roof. The vegetable seller once in awhile looked up from his scales, and waved at a familiar face, smiled, and made an animated complaint that so and so had not frequented his shop in a while. He also gifted every purchase generously with a collection of coriander leaves. As I looked about, I could find that the sellers were replenishing stock, and made a beeline through the crowd.
There were cobwebs hanging from the roof everywhere, all around the place. There were deliberate, broad gaps in the roof, to let sunlight in. The sellers covered these with a canopy formed from gunny bag - sacks and the sunlight silhouetted through the pores in the cloth, and into the place.
We completed our purchase at the shop, and made our way back through the narrow path to the gate, at times, stopping to buy things that were not available at the main shops.
I am told that the prices at these shops are far cheaper as compared to those at the vegetable seller near my home and other places in the city. Perhaps, it is for this reason that a vast majority of people tolerate the “little” inconveniences of these crowded and dirty vegetable markets.