It was the year 1867. India was British India, ruled by colonizers and freedom movements were still uprisings, quickly smothered. Nationalism was on the rise, grappling to gain impetus to be the unstoppable wrecking ball that would rain havoc on British Raj in India. Down south, in the Dravidian land of the old, in the Madras Presidency so rudely named as Trichinopoly by the British was a city once a part of the great empires of Pallavas, Cholas, Pandyas and the Nayaks. As Trichinopoly was one of the important strongholds of British East India Company, they started building the Fort Market.
The fire of freedom and the yearning for independence could not be squashed like a bug under the British heel. The grandeur and the might of brave ancestors still flowed through the veins of the masses. In 1927, Rethinavelu Thevar, the Mayor of Thiruchirapalli invited Bapuji to inaugurate the expanded market. He renamed it as Gandhi Market. Gandhiji laid the cornerstone. And thus, the market bears the Mahatma’s footprints, buried in layers of dirt, dust, and sands of time.
Gandhi Market played a small role in India’s freedom movement- a tiny in-your-face to the Empire. A struggle is ingrained in the very essence of the Market I suppose, for even today, it is a battleground of resistance. It may not be as profound as it was many years ago, but the struggle now is against relocation. This 150-year-old market resists its uprooting. The reason is simple- it does not want to move. The market spills over 6.5 acres of land with different sections called ‘vengaya mandi’, ‘vazhakai mandi’, ‘vellamandi’ and ‘pazha mandi’. The Government attempts to relocate the market as it is the biggest traffic bottleneck in the city. The ever-growing market overflows into the narrow roads with dangerous curves. The city buses swerve the turning, overstuffed with passengers and screeches to a stop, trying to maneuver and inch along without killing anybody. I am not exaggerating. It is an absurdly amusing sight to watch these metal behemoths with a belly full of human lives trying to move forward as street-vendors sit on the roadside with a devil-may-care attitude.
Gandhi Market was one of the many places to visit on my Trichy list. On a Sunday evening, with nothing better to do, I decided to explore the market. The market entrance is opposite the World War 1 Memorial, which is a clock tower, shut down and buried by the extended arms of the market.
I must have covered not even 5 percent of the market; I was in and out in 15 minutes! As I entered the human crowd, the smell of jasmine hit me. It was surreal. Mounds of onions, potatoes, and various other fresh vegetables spewed from the mats of street-vendors. Jasmines, roses, and chrysanthemums covered the opposite section. All the colors of the rainbow danced in front of my eyes.
The vibrant dark blue grapes, the glimmering greens of betel leaves and bananas illuminated by the rays of the setting sun, the yellow of the lemons and the yellow of the turmeric, the orange and red of assorted flowers and the redness of tomatoes- it was a color fest- a feast for the eyes.
Strangely, the market is very clean, not as dirty as you expect it to be. It is a testament to Trichy that boasts its cleanliness and a source of inspiration for all. The Market though overcrowded has an unexplainable lure and charm. There is an unspoken rule of no haggling. Everything is sold at wholesale rates and the minimum one has to buy is half a kilogram, except lemons. The vendors were charming and posed for me. In the end, I had to buy half a kilogram of roses, pomegranates, and a few lemons.
It was clear that I was an outsider. I did get V.I.P treatment, with the vendors eagerly serving me first. The pomegranate guy said, “Sister, I’ll give you my best pomegranates. I’ll wrap it up”. He even asked the other customers to wait. “Let me serve this madam first”. I stood there awkward and red-faced, mumbled a thank-you and left while he grinned cheekily. The potato guy asked me to click his picture saying, “Sister, take two. And use both on your blog. Since you didn’t buy any potatoes, you must at least do this”. And I did. With no idea what to do with the roses and exhausted by the difficulty to navigate in the sea of human bodies, I decided to call it a day.
The streets outside where the mandis
are were empty as it was a Sunday. It was sparsely occupied with gunny bag salesmen, straw mat vendors, and coir rope sellers.
On a typical day, onions and garlic rain; the bustling crowd unloading and reloading trucks of farm-fresh vegetables. On a side, there are scrap metal shops. It was deserted today.
On my way back, I struck up a conversation with the rickshaw driver. He dubiously told me that the plans for relocation are stalled. There is too much resistance. The authorities do not communicate with the vendors on what their requirements are. It is a stalemate is what it is. The vendors are sullen and indignant as their opinions were never asked. The authorities are indignant about being questioned; they claim to know better and what’s good for all. The deadlock continues and life goes on as it did.