Turning routine shopping into a glee
N J Ravi Chander
My romance with the Shivajinagar market in Bengaluru began in the mid-1960s when I was a tiny tot, and it remains one of my favourite haunts. The bustling shoppers’ paradise in the heart of the cantonment is a colonial-era hangout where people flock to stock up on home needs.
I recall the thrill of accompanying my late father, M N Jayaraman, on his weekly market expeditions here. His humble Atlas bicycle was our chariot, with the carrier in the rear serving as my saddle. Armed with a few colourful cloth bags – hand-stitched by my parents out of trousers that had seen better days – we glided our way through the leafy avenues of yore.
Bengaluru then was a one-horse town. But for the odd red-coloured public transport bus, horse tonga or cycle rickshaw the roads were bereft of chaos, making riding a breeze. The market with an alluring old-world charm was laden with fresh farm produce, meat, flowers, and other assorted goods delightfully exhibited to catch the eye of the beholder.
Hawkers peddling their stuff barely spared an inch of the pavement and the surging crowds meant that one had to jostle and sway around. Dad counted on these small-time vendors for his dose of fruits and vegetables. The mouth-watering biryanis dished out by the Taj Hotel – a famous landmark – was something to die for and the eatery always had a full house. The sights, sounds and the smells of the marketplace were precious!
My father relished haggling with the merchants, and I loved the exchanges. There were scores of other shoppers who adopted a similar strategy to get a proper bargain. I observed that Appa had an eye for quality, something that he never compromised on, and handpicked every commodity.
Since most of the hawkers were familiar faces by dint of their long association with him, dad ended up getting good value for his money. He seldom frequented the popular Russell Market as he felt that the prohibitive prices there was nothing short of daylight robbery. Dad reveled in winning friends, earning him admirers galore. He addressed vendors by name and this enabled him to strike the right chord with them. There was also the ‘gujri’, Bengaluru’s version of the ‘chor bazaar’ which peddled second-hand goods for a steal and he would periodically go here looking for tools or just mend a worn-out lock or kerosene stove.
A purchase list always accompanied appa on his shopping rounds, and he tucked the items in separate pouches. Heavier pouches adorned the handlebars, while yours truly held on to the lighter loads. Dad had a penchant for chit-chatting with the hawkers, which at times turned out to be a bit of a marathon. Smooth, light-hearted banter marked their camaraderie, and I found this enjoyable. His forte lay in connecting with humans from all walks of life and this helped him nurture an enduring bond.
We rounded off the outing with a visit to the Excelsior Bakery on Seppings Road. Back then, the cakes sold at just 50 paise apiece, and after heartily tucking into them, we wrapped up some for the kin back home. The sight of the eye-popping posters that stared at us from the Palace Cinema diagonally opposite the bakery always caught my fancy, and I seldom resisted an urge to steal a glance. In the pre-internet era, when there were few sources of entertainment, kids of my generation got hooked to these simple pleasures. That was indeed another era!
(The author is a former banker who has taken up writing as a pastime. He contributes to the Deccan Herald, The New Indian Express, The Tribune, The Hitavada, The City Tab, The Hans India and Kashmir Vision)