Memories Of Souk Stories

BY ISHRATH MUBEEN

It feels like it was just yesterday when I would accompany my father for our early weekend morning shopping at Rusell Market – a dear memory from my childhood. I remember the smell of the fresh greens welcoming us as we walk into the vegetable section. We would walk straight to the stall we always went to. The uncle, or his son in his absence, would pick the kind of vegetables and fruits my father likes, for it was then more than a decade of acquaintance. After all the shopping, we would stop at a stall for some cucumbers and lemon- the vendor always gave me an extra lemon for being his ‘loyal customer’. The stalls have everything under one roof- from fresh vegetables and fruits to flowers and toys. 

As I am reminded of the bustling markets, I can’t help but wonder do the shoppers, vendors and visitors know the history behind these glorious structures?

Markets have always been the earliest manifestations of development. And the British marked their governance by setting up the finest ones in India. The shopping markets in Bangalore are more than a century old- meticulously architectured that are not only of great heritage value but have also been a means for the transformation of the towns into cities.

Standing tall in the heart of the city since 1927, Russell market was the go-to shopping centre for the Europeans residing in the cantonment area; and is said to be built on the order by the Queen of the United Kingdom, and is named of the then Municipal Commissioner T. B. Russell. Even after nearly a century, the building illustrates British architectural perfection. While the clock tower is in its place since the early 1800s, the rest of the building was constructed around it only in the 1900s.

Idris Choudhary, a third-generation owner of Delicious, a dry-fruit stall said that he grew up in this market. The vendors and customers in the market are all a family and each of them has played a vital role in preserving the structure. “I still remember when the clock tower was functional. The market has grown to house about 400 stalls. The first-ever lamp post in Asia was installed right in front of the market; the clock tower and the well that never goes dry are the iconic structures in its premises”, he said.

The traders do not just own the stalls but have inherited them, adding to their inordinate emotional value. But not more than a decade ago, most of the stalls were destroyed in a massive fire that broke out in February 2012. “Devastated but full of hope, the traders of the market exhibited a spectacular show of brotherhood by generously contributing to reinstate the stores that were destroyed in the accident”, Choudhary added.

Fruits and flowers stalls, City market
Photos credit: wikipedia

Another busy market in the city is the Krishna Rajendra Market aka KR market. Built in the year 1928, it is the largest wholesale market in the city. Early mornings are the best time of the day to get your hands on fresh fruits and vegetables. Also known as the city market, it turns into a shopping frenzy during festivals. People from all over the city make their way to this one-stop bazaar.

Named after the former Maharaja of the Kingdom of Mysore, Krishnarajendra Wodeyar, the location is also reported to have been the battlefield during the Anglo-Mysore wars in the eighteenth century. It has two buildings from the British era- at the front and back of the market area. In the 1990s, between the two old buildings, a third structure was established to provide more space for the vendors. In the basement is the parking area, above which stand three commodity-specialised floors with flowers and vegetables on the ground floor, dry goods on the first, and machinery and tools on the second.

Meera Iyer, writer, researcher and Convenor at The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) said that the building has a roof that lets the sunlight in and large windows for fresh air- making the market bright and breezy. “It was cleverly constructed reckoning the lighting, ventilation, and convenience of the traders as well as customers”, she said adding that revitalisation and regular maintenance is necessary to preserve these precious buildings.

A student of psychology, Ishrath is passionately in love with poetry- she lives as if Rumi, Darwish, Iqbal, and Faiz have penned theirs for her. Given a chance, she would run to the snow-capped mountains and never come back.  She loves to sing, finds solace in cooking and spends most of her time contemplating the beauty of nature.