Monday, 18 July 2016

Beltola Bazaar



                                                 
   

 A woman who was selling raw turmeric and fiddlehead fern, shyly smiled away from telling me her name. It was the strange string she had around her neck that caught my attention. It was a string made of bits and pieces of dry roots, she said, to cure her of jaundice that she was ailing from. She was confident of this remedy advised by the village quack. The others in the village had been cured when the string that was stuck to the neck loosened and expanded till it slipped down from the body in three days time. It was necessary for her to come to Beltola Bazar, jaundice was just a minor irritant, she said.

                                                   


    Stepping into a local market is like slipping into a wonderland. From the cloistered,organized shiny shelves of departmental stores, stocking all the exotic ingredients and food products that money can buy, it is disorienting at first to find oneself in the sounds and sights of a bazaar. For some unknown affinity, Beltola bazaar in Guwahati has always been my bench mark for markets. During a tenure in Leh, my mind harked back to the greens of Beltola bazaar; chancing on  farmer's market in a few European spots, I wondered about the simple mechanized display and wrap up of the market as compared to the manual lugging of vegetables at Beltola; or the visual blitzkrieg of Bangkok markets and discovering a nieghbourhood market that was so similar to the ones back home; or the roadside ones that spring up on a designated day; the mounds of onions at Devlali , the list is endless.

                                                 

Beltola bazar dates back to the days of Ahom rule when it was a trading hub for all the ethnic communities in and around Guwahati. Beltola was a protectorate of the Ahom Kingdom whose ruler assisted the Borphukan ( title given to the Governor of Ahom Kingdom stationed towards the west of Kaliabor river looking after Lower Assam). Once, this part of Assam was briefly occupied by the Mughals but who were sent packing by Lachit Borphukan in the Battle of Xaraighat. Since then Beltola was a protectorate kingdom under the Ahom rule and then the British till India gained independence. The present Beltola Rani's residence is very close to the Beltola Bazar. Rani Lakshmipriya Devi who died in 1991 played a pivotal role in keeping the traditional market alive emphasizing on the need to encourage the multi ethnicity presence and trading relations that had been continuing since ancient times.

                                                         

   Beltola Bazar never fails to amaze me with its people, the friendly banter with the vendors, the array of fruits and vegetables and the ones reminding me of childhood that are said to be disappearing from the face of this earth. There is a bond between the seller and the regular customers borne out of familiarity. In every trip of mine, I make it a point to visit this market, ostensibly to pick the special lemon (Kaji nemu), the fiddlehead fern and the ghost chillies to carry back to Delhi. But that is just an excuse. I love the rows of vendors displaying the vegetables  in neat piles. More than that I love coming across unfamiliar items that give a glimpse into the food culture of a community. On a couple of occasion , I've picked up these ingredients to try out the recipes these women have parted with. And they have led me onto interesting culinary journey in my  kitchen.

                                                       

    These vendors are mostly women who travel all the way from the Garo and the Khasi hills and nearby small towns, bringing with them the produce of their back yards, farms and little vegetable plots. Sometimes a few  of them collectively ferry the village's or their neighbourhood's fruits and vegetables to the big city. They bring in some of the best green vegetables, a variety of colacasia, bamboo shoots, banana flower, rattan shoot, pineapples, oranges, poultry and eggs and whole lot of indigenous ingredients.

                                                       

    Their journey begins a little after midnight, starting from their villages to the nearest transport hub and then to Guwahati. Many a times, they travel precariously perched on a heap of sacks through the night in small vans. The moment they arrive at the crack of dawn, the middlemen hover around them offering them as low price as possible. Some of the gullible are taken in and succumb, while the seasoned ones can hold their own.

The market begins as early as five in the morning and used to continue till late in the evening until a few months back. However a recent administration order requires them to wrap up by ten in the morning on Thursdays and by noon on Sundays. Ostensibly to ease the traffic, this direction from the local administration is causing considerable discomfort to the small sellers. They now have to wrap up right when the business picks up. The administration, in fact, with a little imagination could play up the multi ethnicity role and it's historical context to turn this into a tourist attraction.

 There can be space for all, both the aseptic malls and the vibrant local markets. I have always felt that it is a local market that gives a true feel of the place, its people and their lives. Beltola Bazar being no different.

   






9 comments:

  1. Good to see some fresh fruits and vegetables and smiling faces.

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    1. Thank you Manali for being here!

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  2. Of late, our maid has been wearing a pendant to ward off jaundice although all she needs is a break from her gruelling schedule. Unfortunately, she is in the service of four other households and people have the same streak of sadism displayed by the middlemen who set out to fleece poor women who begin their journeys at midnight to earn measly sums. Thanks for weaving together the past and the present.

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    1. The underprivileged cease to be living beings for some which compels them to trudge on for the sole reason of survival. Wish there were more arrangements to have farmer's markets in urban areas.

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  3. A great flavour of open spaces and farm freshness in your post! Thanks for sharing. Please claim what is yours over here -

    http://nilabose.blogspot.in/2016/07/double-helpings-of-liebster-mary-oliver.html

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  4. To give way for the ever increasing traffic of Guwahati , the authorities has limited the time schedule of the bazaar. May be in a few years from now it will remain only in our memories.

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  5. Thank you for giving me a picture of how people are working hard to earn their bread at different parts of the World. Humbles me!

    xoxo - Chaicy
    Style.. A Pastiche - styleapastiche.com

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  6. very interesting post! I had never seen turmeric like this! nice pics!

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Your words keep me going :)