I was at the tender age of 5 or maybe 6. My father decided that I was old enough to accompany him to the local market for the weekly purchase of vegetables and fish (Bengali family, right?). This ritual would happen every Sunday. Now, for kids growing up in the pre-cable TV era, Sunday morning was the most looked-forward time in the entire week for TV viewing. And my favourite was “the famous five” which used to start at 9 a.m.; and of course, as fate would have it, I used to miss the serial every time. Boy, did I hate my dad for conspiring to make me miss my favourite serial.
For anyone who has not had the misfortune to visit any fish market in Calcutta, to parody the iphone ad.... if you haven’t seen a Calcutta fish market, well....you haven’t seen a fish market! No one has ever accused our markets to be clean, dry places; add to that the monsoons, and you have a health hazard. I have nothing against the monsoons, but, call me un-romantic if you will, getting wet wet wet with two heavy shopping bags in two hands and an umbrella wedged between your neck and shoulder in a place where “mud is all around”.... well, it’s not my recipe for a perfect start to a Sunday morning!
Then, there was the daily haggling over the price, for everything ranging from fish to figs!! A typical session would go like this:
Dad: How much for the rohu?
Fish-Seller: Babu, Rs.35 per kilo.
Dad: That’s extortion, max I will pay is Rs.30...
Fish-Seller: Babu that does not even cover my cost... Just for you, I will sell at no profit...Rs.33 only!
Dad: Rs.32 and not a paise more.
And so on and so forth.....till a mid-point was reached and the sale closed.
Of course, the sights and sounds and the overbearing smells of a local market may put most people off food for weeks. But, after years of exposure, one kinda gets used to it, and it would not be too much to say, it even grows onto you.
If you are in a place teeming with people, like a market in Calcutta, you get to meet with people (by that I mean the vendors) who, on the face of it, are quite run-of-the-mill. But, prod them a little, and their character leaves an indelible mark on you.
Take Mr. A, for instance. He sells onions, potatoes, ginger and garlic. He used to work in a mill, which closed down. This forced him to become a vegetable vendor. But, that did not stop him from giving a proper education to his son, who presently is an ASM in a MNC pharma company. Every year he visits his son in Indore, and I am happy to say, he travels by air nowadays.
somdeb basu says ... "....this reminded me of my pre teen age when I would accompany my father to fish market...it was pretty common then for people to take their kids to the morning market...... am not so sure that it is so common now.................. we would typically have different sets of woven colorful nylon bags for different categories of items e.g. rice, vegetables, fish, potatoes & onions , sweets & stationery, grocery etc. We would almost know all the vendors by name, they would know us. They would keep track of which class we were in.... On results season, they would ckeck \'results are out? have u passed ? etc..... On days when the mango was not \'optimally sweet\' , they would blink & indicate not to buy on that day......and so on...............I guess I have not been able to get out of that hangover in so many years & still prefer individual vegetable & fish shops (identification & relationship building took time in the millenium city of gurgaon)over the ever increasing sw! anky supermarkets. That ensures every time my fish vendor gets a hilsa of a certain quality, he calls up & so does the vegetable vendor when he gets a certain variety of mango - langda:)"