Friday, July 22, 2011

Oral History at Russell Market

Recently, we’ve have been talking to street vendors and shop owners at Russell market in Bangalore. I include below excerpts from an interview:

“In the Russell market of old, the population was much less. There were many foreigners. You can say that one could buy just about anything here. There was nothing that was not available here. Now, there are many changes, there are traffic problems, there are parking problems. The maintenance of the market is not proper." 

We found that most of the older vendors have pleasant memories of the market and their day-to-day business. There was a substantial part of the clientele that was Anglo-Indian. Many of these were people who lived in Shivajinagar, the residential neighbourhood that envelops the Russell market and the 'Cantonment area' nearby. The vendors at Russell market speak with great pride about the wide variety of exotic fruits and vegetables you could buy here, some of which were imported from outside the country, especially during Christmas, when there was a 2-day Exhibition at the market, with vendors displaying some of the most attractive agricultural produce, and displays that competed for prizes at the Market Exhibition.

"Today, there are no officers in-charge like before. There used to be an office upstairs on the first floor of the market. There were watchmen all around the market building. There is nobody looking after this place now. This is a Corporation market. Earlier, when there were good officers, the market was maintained well. It was frequented by foreigners. Today, foreigners are afraid to come here. Maintenance is not proper. The shops are not proper. There is not a good enough accessway. They are giving our market a bad reputation"

Many of the vendors express the lack of support from the Municipal Corporation in terms of infrastructure upgradation and maintenance. However, we learnt that the vendors who have shops inside the market building pay a monthly rent of only Rs.200. The BBMP or municipality is reluctant to upgrade since their monthly revenue from the market is quite low and they are unable to get the vendors to pay a higher rent.

"Earlier, our business was so good. The people who now come to Russell market are fewer in number. Today, the market caters mainly to hotels and retail business has totally flopped. Parking has been a big problem. Even today, the vegetables you can get here, you will not get anywhere, the rare varieties. The customers don’t have parking space. Nobody can bring foreigners here to show them around."

Russell market is located at one end of Noronha road with the historic St.Mary's Basilica at its other end. It is a beautiful tree-lined avenue and one can imagine how beautiful the street would have been without the traffic congestion and lack of maintenance one finds here today. There have been attempts to resolve the parking problems but these haven't been entirely successful. One of the options has been to build a parking facility above the Shivaji Nagar Bus Stand in the vicinity. According to a few of the shopowners, this facility is not fully utilised since many visitors to Russell market are unaware of its existence. Secondly, a one-way access on the linkage between Shivaji Nagar Bus stand and Russell market requires cars to take a much longer detour before they can reach the Parking facility and many people opt for parking in front of the shops, adding to the congestion here.

"In the old days, I would wake up at four in the morning to come to the market. From 4am once our business started, until 10 am, we would not have the time to even have a cup of tea. That is how good our business was. We would eat our breakfast at 11am or 12 noon. After that, till 3 to 3.30 in the afternoon we would take a nap. Then, until 10pm, there would be so many people at the market. This was how it was about twenty years ago.”

These recollections of the vendors at Russell market were a way for us to recreate the bazaar in our minds. There is so little documentation available on our marketplaces that these oral history interviews become for us an important tool to understand the way in which bazaars work.

Interviewers : Rakshitha K.S. and Srishti Singh

Related Posts :
What is Russell Market
Urban Structure: City Market and Russell Market
How Green is my Bazaar
Marketplaces and Tourism

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Walking in Lille

Why were we in Lille? It had been an old, neglected town of France until twenty years ago but now it was a booming tourist place. How had that happened? We were here to explore the town, the central market and its many pedestrianised streets, to understand the Urban Heritage strategy that the French town had adopted but also to simply walk the streets and enjoy ourselves.

The Government had taken a major decision to make Lille the crossroads of high-speed trains. This decision had turned around the economy of the place. The government had simultaneously begun to carry out architectural restoration of buildings in the town. Lille started to become attractive to investors as well as tourists.

What was the route we took? We had arrived at the Gare de Lille Europe – the railway station built in 1993 connecting UK, Belgium and the Netherlands. From here, we walked through the Place de l’Europe and the Allee de St-Louis du Senegal towards the Place de la Gare. Our first stop had been the Napoleon cafĂ©, where we had our first coffee in Lille. After that, we had walked to the Central Market, a square that has overlooking it, the Opera and the Vieille Bourse. From here, there are many streets lined with shops which are completely pedestrianised.

We looked at the architectural facades – some French and some Dutch, we looked at the Cobblestoned streets, we looked at the old-style signage that most of the shops carried. There were no hoardings in this heritage town. Sometimes, we stopped, only to look carefully at a street lamp that accentuated a street corner.

There were between the heritage houses, a few facades that were contemporary, that used large panels of glass and yet the detailing bringing in an elegance that gave the modern shops a place here amidst heritage and old-world charm. In some streets, there were infills, houses that had been constructed anew with bricks and plasterwork for cornices – a few that seemed more authentic than others.

The afternoon was spent sitting outside at a coffeeshop – it was cappuchino with waffles for some and pancakes for others. A heritage tourist town needed places like these and one saw these cafes in Lille as elsewhere in other tourist towns in Europe.

This journey through a town with so many pedestrianised streets made us think about what the 'process of pedestrianisation' had been for Lille. How long does it take for this change to happen? How does one bring about this change? Are there hindrances along the way? How do shopowners collaborate with the government in making the town pedestrian-friendly and tourist-friendly? What are the regulations that the local municipality designs and enforces for better traffic management? These were some questions that come to mind, that make me think about how difficult pedestrianisation is in India. (I discuss here about The why's and how's of Pedestrianising Gandhi Bazaar)

It made us think about why the concern for heritage in our own countries is so little. Perhaps, we do not understand how 'everyday objects' can also be 'museum objects', since in India, as in many countries in South Asia, there is so much that is living heritage.

As we walked the Streets around the Central market and the old city in Lille, we saw the most enticing bakeries and shops selling French souvenirs. And, I thought, there is only so much you can do in one day and only so much you can eat in one day, but it is always a good idea to try everything you possibly can!!

Read about:
Art in Urban Spaces
Faces in the Bazaar
Udaipur city