Chalo Mumbai, let’s go to Mumbai, is a phrase commonly uttered by rich and poor. For this is a city where one needs determination and a vibrant spirit to live life. Mumbai is a city to be experienced and understood with an open heart. It has the mix of magic and masala or spice. To me, Mumbai is home, a place filled with childhood memories, tugging at my mother’s saree pallav and jostling the crowded markets of Girgaum and Dadar. Both these markets are heavily crowded and bursting with cloth, fresh vegetables and seasonal fruit, especially mango.
The routine summer holiday visits to Dadar and Vile Parle markets with my mother, carrying along cloth bags or pishvi to tuck in seasonal lemons and mangoes has left a lasting and energetic impulse in me. Till date, I am always heading to city or country markets, wherever I travel.
‘Chaalo market’ I say to my old mother now, still tugging her saree pallav jokingly, as she recounts a rainy day adventure, when I sat atop a push cart of juicy seasonal mangoes, covering my head with flimsy plastic sheet to ward of the rains.
Outside the Vile Parle east train station, the street market is a bustling activity centre all year round. Suburban markets are strategically placed outside very train station in Mumbai. Bhajiwallah’s, vendors begin their day early by unloading truck loads of baskets arriving from outskirts of Mumbai. Stalls are quickly covered with wet jute cloth that serve as perfect air-conditioners in a hot, humid Mumbai. Colourful large umbrellas shade fresh stock from the sun.
Makeshift stalls selling fresh vegetables
Repetition of produce makes it easy to strike bargains, but the vendors stand guard and their community bonds to protect each other. Numerous stalls of tomatoes, onions, cabbage, beans, cauliflower and carrots line both sides of the wide street, making it dense with the commuting traffic and the women folk in sarees. I wonder how more than 30 odd vendors selling similar vegetables, compete with price and yet make a profit? Tip of the day: Walk around a small area to find out the prices and compare. Then, go to your regular Bhajiwallah, and request the price you want. Mostly, he will reward your loyalty with the best affordable price. A philosophical lesson.
At the other side of the street, juicy over ripe tomatoes were thrown as rubbish on the floor. A pile of unwanted leafy cabbage, cauliflower stems and rubbish plastic bags, crumpled paper turned the market area into an instant dump. All this for the want of proper dust bins, precious time of the vendors, and surging crowds and proper hygiene facilities and sense!
In Mumbai, be warned of the crowds and their quick and nifty hands! Hmm…no wonder I was warned of loosing my money purse.
Flower garlands for sale. Tied by a widow who has learned to make her living.
Vendors in Mumbai are called Bhaaiyya, or brother, as in North India. Most of them are migrants from northern states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, to eke out a better living and make extra fast money to send home. This helps to pay off heavy debts incurred in daughter’s dowries. irrigating and providing for dry lands, and making better concrete and brick houses. The daily struggle of existence in this big and fast city has its own share of problems for them – no families, strange community, rising expenses, and shortage of space and water. One gain, other loss.
Clutching on to my purse ever so tightly, I continued walking to the end of the market, to brightly lit shops and food stores. Maduram stores has made history for its long existence as a provision and cloth store. Cotton bed sheets, chequered Madras towels and fancy handkerchiefs are sold on the street, rather on the footpath! A migrant Madrasi vendor shouts in his language ‘We have paid the policeman Rs. 300 this week’ he boasts of the seemingly high price paid to the local policeman. ‘This is his weekly pocket-money –and he gives us permission to occupy this small space. No trouble this week, I am assured’
Deals struck between illegal footpath stalls holders and local policemen are commonplace in Mumbai. A win –win solution for all, isnt’ it ? ‘Challo Mumbai’ I hear the echo in my head, just like all these migrant vendors who have come to Mumbai to earn a living.
My next stop is at the Vasai Vallah vendor. I remember my mother patronizing this Marathi vending community who commute by train from Vasai, northern Mumbai and sell farm fresh vegetables in suburban markets. Vegetables from Vasai are popular in the community as they cater to special taste and cuisine.Brinjals and bananas come in at least 5 different varieties. Palak, Methi, Cuka the popular green leafy vegetables are very farm fresh, and not sprinkled with water as with the other Bhajjiwalahs. The Vasai farmers boast of a local co-operative society that helps them gather knowledge and expertise in farming, research and marketing.
Bananas varieties that lace a Marathi kitchen are :red Rajelis for making a coconut filled sweet treat, small yellow Velchi and Sonekali are aromatic and soft to swallow. “Kanda Mala – kai bhav deta Bhau?’ I ask the Vasai vallah in local Marathi. These small sweetish white salad onions, are neatly tied necklace with a jute string. The white bulbs look like festive bulbous balloons. The Kanda Mala is traditionally hung from the wooden kitchen ceiling, in typical wada or ancient homes. Breaking away one onion at a time as an accompaniment to Jowar Bhakri, a traditional cereal Roti, it is the perfect way to savour the sweet zing of these salad Onions.
Its’ payment time, murmurs the old Vasai Vallah. I tuck deep into my shopping bag in search of my purse. Extra fidget and a push. My face tells another story, my heart beat rises. I show him how the underside of my bag has been neatly cut and my purse stolen! Skilled perfection! I stand bewildered unable to pay the vendor. He looks on, wondering if this is a gimmick or truth as he is aware of such encounters in crowded markets.
Slowly, a faint smile appears on the Vasai Vallah’s lips and his words leave me numb and humble. ‘Udaya yaa ani paise dhya, me roj ithech basato..…khup varshe jhalii’ he proposes to me. “Come back tomorrow surely and pay me, I have been sitting here, at this place, for years.’ he said softly.
I nodded my head in deep reverence to the spirit of this old man. Today, I understood the patronizing between the vendor and consumer ( my mother) and the trusting bond it creates. The weaker society is so richer than the rich, comes to light with this small act of kindness.
Mumbai – its people struggle for a living but have a big heart. Suddenly the teeming market with its array of green red and yellows vegetables, soft rustling of the sarees as women walk, and the distant din of the hurried vendors seems far away. My head is filled with pride for this city, my city, Mumbai!
Shanti Bai – the lady vendor making and selling flower garlands – Smile please
Have you visited any market in Mumbai? What impression did it leave on your mind?
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