Above- Connemera market in Trivandrum
If you've grown up in India, chances are you've been to the old bazaar in the heart of the old town. If you haven't visited one, let me paint you a picture. Every township has an old traditional bazaar in the heart of the old town, a market crammed with shops that house all kinds of wares, from the finest of jewelry and handlooms to the cheapest of plastic toys and footwear. The shops are usually very old, with beautifully aged wooden support beams peaking out here and there. These markets are a car driver's worst nightmare, with narrow roads catering to a much larger population than originally indented. There's often one or two really ancient temples, perhaps a mosque too, and lots of eateries and vendors on hand cart selling street food. And then there's the crowds. Lots and lots of them, on foot, on cycles, and on 2 -wheelers. To be sure, a trip to these bazaars brings on a sensory explosion of noise, colors and often, high heat. It is not for the faint hearted! But there is no other shopping experience quite like it, and the chaos is a small price to be for the experience.
Growing up, we travelled all across India. My father's a military man, and often got posted to really remote places. And my mother, who truly appreciates Indian handicrafts, would take me on explorations to the oldest bazaar there was in the new town we found ourselves in. These were such memorable explorations. We've bought antique utensils, silver and textiles that I still have in my possession, decades later. In 2016. while vacationing with my son in Trivandrum, I took him to the famous Connemara spice market, not because he has any interest in cooking, but because I wanted him to experience this city, amongst other things, through its specialty, its home grown spices. To his credit, he played along :)
So what is it about these bazaars that is so captivating? Without question, it is the uniqueness of its wares. The town's local artistry is- or used to be- the highlight of these bazaars, whether it's the traditional art of zardozi and ittar in Charminar, or hand painted Pichwais of Nathdwara. Artifacts were sold based on the skill of the artisans, the weavers and the craftsman. Sadly, with modernisation, the uniqueness of these bazaars is getting diluted. All bazaars everywhere keep pretty much the same wares. As demand for some of these ancient crafts dwindles, shop keepers have no choice but to stock items that are at the top of their customers' mind. Factory- made cookie cutter items, from clothes to fashion accessories to utensils, have flooded bazaars all over the country. In recent years, I'm saddened as I notice fewer shops carry traditional handicrafts of that region. Once these skills are lost, the loss is irreversible.
Of course modernisation is required, and brings with it a better life for these very craftsmen as they find better paying jobs. But there has to be an attempt to preserve the arts. And there are government and private sector organisations doing just this, training artisans to modify their products so they appeal to a more global, well-traveled, customer. We as citizens need to be aware of what we're losing, and aim to support artisans. I'd hate to see an India where every shopping experience is the same as any other shopping experience anywhere else in the world.
14 Traditional Bazaars of India