Sunday, May 27, 2012

Gujari Bazaar – the 600 yr old market

I reached Ellis bridge in Ahmedabad on a really hot afternoon in March this year. I was seeing for the first time the Gujari Bazaar. I had heard about it many times before. I had read about it before I came here. This self-managed bazaar was locally called the ‘Ravivari’ or Sunday market. It had more than 1200 registered traders, most of them selling used items and a few selling new goods.The livelihoods of nearly 20,000 households were linked directly and indirectly with this market.

One would think that anything 600 years old would look old. It didn’t. With the way people went about in the bazaar, this did not look like a part of a period film. It just looked like a crowded bazaar that belonged to the present. However, it was a present that was part urban and part rural. As I entered the bazaar from one end of the Ellis bridge, there was a line of street vendors selling fruit on what seemed like high wooden platforms until I realised that they were camel carts (without the camels).

Ahmedabad was a city that had continued to be both urban and rural with nomadic tribes living in some neighbourhoods, with artisan communities settling here from other parts of Gujarat, with the city bearing ways of living that reflected traditional customs alongside contemporary needs that it was never quite urban in the way western societies define ‘urban’. It reminded me of the “urban-rural continuum” that Kerala had been known to have (in discussions about vernacular architectural traditions) with no discernible boundaries between the paddy fields and urban infrastructure.

The question that came to my mind was: How does a bazaar sustain for 600 years? For anything to sustain, it must be resilient enough. We do know that. How was this resilience built into our traditional bazaars? Was it in the nature of the people who sold their wares? Was it in the relationships and networks on which the buying and selling rested, that the resilience was embedded? Was it in the indigenous credit systems? How much of these still survived? Why had this bazaar not gradually faded away or been buried into the history of the city of Ahmedabad?

As I think about it now, knowing that it was a 600 year old bazaar had been so much in my mind before I reached there and after I got there, that I could think of nothing else for some time. As John Berger says in his book, The Ways of Seeing – “The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled” What I also knew from before was that this vibrant bazaar was in the centre of controversy – the Sabarmati Riverfront development project threatened to displace the bazaar that had been a source of livelihood for several vendors. The Gujari bazaar had a long, long history, but a short-lived future.

The historical background of the bazaar tells us that it was started in 1414 by Sultan Ahmed Shah, the Founder of Ahmedabad. At that time, it operated on Fridays and spread from Teen Darwaza to Bhadra Taar office. The 1941 communal riots had forced the closure of the bazaar for some time. It reopened a few months later, first near the Siddhi Sayyed mosque and later near the old Civil court. It was in 1954 that it was finally shifted to the Sabarmati riverfront at its present location.

Today, the Gujari bazaar is seen as a marketplace that belongs to the ‘Intangible Cultural heritage’ of the city of Ahmedabad. It has been included by the Centre for Environment Education (CEE) in its ‘Project Parampara’ which is a documentation initiative supported by the Ministry of Culture. There are three films on the Gujari bazaar which can be accessed at which highlight the role of the Gujari bazaar association and the linkages between artisans and traders who have participated in the bazaar for many generations.

The short-lived future of the Gujari bazaar has been discussed in public meetings and efforts continue to be made by not-for-profit organisations and educational institutions in the City to propose alternatives to the displacement of tradition and livelihoods. In December 2009, a Public hearing was held in Ahmedabad to discuss displacements experienced by the poor and included the case of the Gujari bazaar. This is a link to the Report of Public hearing on Habitat and Livelihood displacements.

The verdict of the jury had said that the Gujari bazaar was a heritage activity of the city and its shifting needed to be re-examined by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation with the participation of the traders. A forum of concerned citizens of Ahmedabad called ‘Our Inclusive Ahmedabad’ had organised this Public hearing and continues to battle with the government for the rights of the vendors.

If an informal, temporal marketplace has been a part of a city for six hundred years, why would we want to let it go? It's time perhaps to reflect on sustainable development as Indians understood it in the past. What cultural processes and planning processes did they deploy that we can learn from? What can we remember from what we know from our past that will help us design a better future for our cities?

Here is a link to: which discusses the Livelihood and Community-related aspects of the bazaar and the efforts of management and design professionals from IIMA and NID towards working with the Ahmedabad Gujari Association in the recent past.

Related Posts:
The Riddle of Russell market
Gandhi Bazaar: Street vendor eviction
The Informal Economy and Urban space
The Politics of the Marketplace

Monday, May 14, 2012

Existential Blogger

I sat down to write my next blogpost and it looked like the handbrakes were on or something. I wasn’t making any progress. I couldn’t make any progress. No thoughts. Then, came the question, not for the first time: Why do I blog? It’s an existential question, which I never try to answer. If Douglas Adams’ supercomputer Deep Thought had taken seven million years to think about the question ‘what is the meaning of life’ only to come up with the answer ‘Forty-two’, what was I, a mere earthling going to find here? Nothing. So, while I wait for my world of blogging to find its own meaning, I thought I’d write about some of the people I’ve met on this galactic experience in the blogosphere.

There’s been fellow bloggers who’ve been extremely supportive with their comments and suggestions. Amongst these have been Radha Vijay who writes at Musings of a Night Owl, Meena Venkataraman who writes at Travel Tazzels and Anjali who writes at Annaparabrahma. I have often read and re-read posts at Windy Skies learning something new each time.

Two years ago, on a suggestion from a friend, I wrote a mail to Lonely Planet asking to be a part of their Blogsherpa program. I started to contribute as a ‘Lonely Planet Blogger’. This also meant being part of an e-group of Travel writers and Travel Bloggers who posted regularly on There was a lot to learn from the questions and answers that went back and forth in this forum. There were places that I’d never heard of before that a fellow blogger would write about and it would make me curious. Met some really nice people there.

The friend who had suggested writing to Lonely Planet had been travelling in India for three months and we had first met in Bombay. Laura Mannering had quit her job as a Features Editor in the UK to give herself some time to see the world and to meet new people. Laura got back to London after an entire year of travelling and started a travel blog: World out there. It had fascinated me when I had first met Laura that one could travel on and on for a whole year. And now, months later, I was reading her detailed accounts of the places she had been to, the stories I had missed, the places that had happened in the months after the time in India.

In the early months of being part of the Blogsherpa program at Lonely Planet, there were exchanges with bloggers, through the Blog carnival series that was started and through writing guest posts. At this time, I came across ‘A Traveler’s Library’ – a blog that reviewed books and films that inspired travel. That was for me such an interesting way to think and discuss travel. Vera Marie wrote about places she’d been to and books she’d read and you felt as if you were sitting across the table listening to her, forgetting that all of this was only coming to you from a computer screen.

Then, I came across Wandering Educators - a global community of educators who share their travel experiences and dialogue about education and travel. They write about Artisans, Intercultural Education, Performing arts and many, many other interesting stories about travel. Also, there was Pocket Cultures – a group blog that makes connections between people from different cultures. Some of their collaborative posts have been really interesting such as this one: School days around the world where contributors from around the world talk of a typical school day in their country.

A few months ago, I learnt about 10 year itch, travel consultants who offer custom designed trips to India such as the Ladakh Gompa circuit, MP Unplugged, Temples & Tigers, the Kochi loop and many more innovative itineraries . And, more recently, I discovered the creative team at Spark the magazine – an online literary magazine that explores the world through writing, photography and art. They have some really interesting stories, for example, in Feb 2012, Spark interviewed the co-founder of Grassroutes – a fellowship program that encourages travel through rural India and working with changemakers.

I think I will stop now. If the next blogosphere underpass construction project suddenly demolishes Indian Bazaars (Douglas Adams talks of the intergalactic highway, in Bangalore we have the road dug up anywhere and everywhere to build an underpass, so it's the first on my recall...), at least the draft acknowledgement piece of this 'Saga that was going nowhere' would have been written!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The Golla wallah

I was walking in Manek Chowk that morning when I saw the golla wallah. It brought back memories from childhood when one desired the golla (ice candy) more than anything else!

The Bazaar is so often a coming together of visual delight and affordable living, a place for the "common man”, a place where every character of R.K. Narayan’s stories would feel at home, a place where many of us would be happy wandering through as we find that which delights us and that which we can easily afford.

If you are thirsty as you meander through the bazaar, what are the choices you have? You can have ‘sada pani’ - just plain water. You can have tender coconut water or sugarcane juice. You can stop at a chai wallah or you can go to the golla wallah. When you think about it, it’s only the chai that you can also get at home, not the tender coconut, not the sugarcane juice, and surely not the golla! (Anjali's comment has proved me completely wrong. Do check out her home-made Kairi Panha slurp recipe!)

The golla is street food at its best. “This food is to die for” you hear Rocky and Mayur say on their television show ‘Highway on my Plate’ every time they are checking out a new eating place. It’s a programme I love watching because it takes you to all those places serving yummy food that you haven’t gotten to yet. There are endless episodes of it because there are endless choices of food in India. For those of us who love street food, there is the book Street food of India that won’t let us forget that street food is as much living heritage as anything else in this country. And, here is a recipe for the Kala Khatta golla

I think now about all of the local thirst-quenchers and their place in the bazaar. How do they add functional value to the bazaar? How many sugarcane juice stalls might exist in the city compared to the golla wallah stalls? How many people make a livelihood in the city selling tender coconuts? How many invest in a business that sells the kala-khatta golla and more? And then, how does it differ from one city to another? In India, it is not so easy to know the details of operations within the informal sector – its past and its present.

However, we can put our recollections together and build an image of the bazaar. If I asked, what do you remember of the golla wallah? How often did you get to eat a golla? Was it something you did on the way back from school? Is it a memory linked with the summer holidays? If each of us shared what we can remember, we would soon have a bigger picture. So, if you would like to share your thoughts here, we can do a golla wallah collage of memories…

Read about:
The Pani Puri wallah
What is Chai
Tender Coconut in a Street Bazaar