If you want to experience the real spirit of India, I would say you should visit the country’s markets. Of course, that is just one way of feeling the vastness that India is!
Markets in each state of India are different, to a large extent a representative of the local culture and flavours of the state. Then again, markets in different cities are different, too – they get more local and customised to the tastes of people in those cities. I love the colours, the hustle and bustle, the knowledge that local Indian markets give me. Often, when I have nothing else to do, I wander off to a market, just like that, toting my camera along. Whenever we are holidaying too, I ensure that I visit the local market, which, I feel, helps me a get a feeling of having visited the heart of the place and experienced the culture of the locality at its best.
Just before a festival is one of the best times to visit a market, I feel. I love doing that, especially before Navratri, Dussehra, Diwali and Ganesh Chaturthi. I am famous for wanting to travel about 10 km from our house to a market to fetch a bunch of coriander, if it is nearing festival time, not preferring to go to the vegetable store that is a 2-minute walk from home. I love seeing the markets all lit up and stocked with goodies at these times. That is how I landed at the beautiful Malleshwaram market just before Ayudha Pooja began.
The Malleshwaram market, which I usually find charming, was all the more charming. Shops and roads were brilliantly lit, and people were all over the place, making their last minute purchases.
Shops were at their colourful best, selling all the stuff that one would need for the pooja. There was everything on offer – at its freshest best – vegetables (specially the hordes of pumpkins, which are sold in thousands, I think, in Karnataka, just before the pooja), coconuts, haldi and kumkum, cotton wicks and earthern diyas, pooja vessels, loads and loads of many-hued flowers, fruits, bangles and earrings, camphor, small banana trees, tulsi plants, clothes, hair accessories, mehendi-wallahs, varieties of on-the-go snacks and drinks, and the loveliest of dolls to adorn golus across the city. And this is just a sample of all the goodies that were for sale, mind you.
I find this market comparatively neat and well-maintained as compared to some other markets I have visited. When I visited, it was even more squeaky clean, with vendors preparing their shops and the tools of their trade for worship. And, with the variety of flowers on display, it smelt as good as it looked!
This year, I had been grumbling all through Navratri that it just didn’t feel like it was festival time. That changed the minute I entered the market. I was awed by the decorations, by the splendour of it, by the festive fervour in the air. My spirits lifted immediately. I loved exploring the nooks and crannies of the market, all over again, stopping by now and then for a filter coffee, hot boiled corn, raw mango or chaat, or to look at or buy something. I don’t know if this happens with you, too, but visiting markets like these puts me in the mood to wear a silk saree, lots of flowers and bangles, and sindoor, as I shop for things for the home. It makes me want to become a stay-at-home wife (I wonder what this says about me!), take life one day at a time, and not run after a career. It makes me want to experience another kind of simple, laid-back, more peaceful life. It happened to me during this visit, too.
I find that the variety of commodities in markets increases manifold just before the festival season, and is much better, too. I found some ‘festival-special’ bangles that I had been looking for for ages, and bought them. The festival spirit even made me shop for some showy earrings, which I don’t think I would have bought otherwise. I eyed a lovely saree, and resisted the temptation to buy it. I realised that I love the process of choosing pretty, shiny trinkets, thinking over how this would fit and that would look, and making plans for what I would wear each thing with.
I pestered the OH into buying me a string of jasmine just the way I like it – threaded at intervals with green leaves and the orange kanakambaram flowers. I realised that I love pinkish-red roses strung with green leaves, and considered the possibility of wearing a strand in my hair – I decided against it, considering the already pitiful state of my hair.
I also got hold of some fresh vegetables for the night’s dinner (I realised, yet again, that I love the concept of buying fresh vegetables every day for the day’s meal – I only wish I could do that every day.)
I returned home a happy and contented soul. Festival time had arrived in my life.