Friday, July 27, 2012

Stolen Coffee Room

The ‘Stolen Coffee room’ is a coffee shop which has most of its furniture and the art that fills its walls from Chor Bazaar. Now, that is something new, but that this coffee shop with the ambience and charm of a European café is in Nerul, that is “most unusual”. If you’ve lived in Bombay 15 years before or if you grew up in Bombay before then, you would know what I mean!!

It was a complete revelation to visit Nerul this time I went to Bombay, having lived away for many years now. It’s a relatively new suburb of Bombay. I grew up in Sion and for many living in South Bombay then, Sion was a suburb they had never been to and Nerul is further North! Today, Nerul has modern residential complexes and interesting restaurants that you would want to travel through the city’s traffic to get to (from South Bombay!) Thanks to Anjali who invited me to lunch at the Bangali Mashi's kitchen off Palm Beach road and then to coffee afterwards introducing me to two great places in one afternoon and simultaneously to the changing landscape of the city! You can already read Anjali's totally absorbing post Friendly Neighbourhood Bangali Mashi's Kitchen at her blog dedicated to food Anna Parabhahma. I also liked what Anjali has to say about the Stolen coffee room, to read more on that, you can go here: Lost my heart to the Stolen Coffee room

I’m happy to write this post and include it here on this blog because the ‘Stolen Coffee Room’ has a connection to the Bazaar. As it’s name suggests, it has been designed and put together from selecting objects from Chor Bazaar, which supposedly had stolen items for sale in the old days, though today it is the place to buy antiques in Bombay. I’ve written earlier about Chor Bazaar at Bollywood Posters and Bazaar Tour 2: Antiques Mumbai

Coming back to our coffee shop with its chor bazaar ancestry, it’s design concept is interesting. Not every table at the Stolen Coffee Room looks like another. Each table is a different one. The chairs are all different. As you sit in the café with your cup of coffee, you wonder where that chair has been before, did it belong to another café or was it a family that used it in their home before it was found at Chor Bazaar. There is history behind each painting on the wall, inside every kettle in the glass cupboard.

The other day, a friend who has grown up in Bombay but now lives in Bangalore talked of her excitement at seeing the new “high-end” coffee shop come up opposite her parents’ house in Hill road. “You know, the kind where you get a pastry for Rs.150!” she had said. She was so surprised to find how this once simple Hill road lane had changed with these “high-end” coffee shops coming up in locations where there had once been businesses with “immoral” activities; where brand showrooms had been willing to pay exhorbitant real estate prices for a space in a building which she so clearly remembers from her childhood to be a “panvati” building (That’s Bombay terminology for a building with a curse on it). These changes in old neighbourhoods were becoming more frequent and quite drastic.

Here, in Bangalore, we have been closely watching the changes that have been taking place in the ‘Adigas lane’ – that’s the lane off Bannerghatta road, close to the Arakere gate signal junction. Most of us here call it by this name because of the fast food restaurant ‘Adigas’. It occupies a place close to the corner property. Beyond that and away from the main road were independent houses. It was a quiet lane when we first moved here five years ago. Then, gradually, a Baskin Robbins came up, the vada-pav chain – Goli Pav, the Juhu Bombay Naturals Ice cream parlour, the Lakme Salon moved here. Further down, a gym has opened up and the library chain Just Books and now the Cuppa coffee shop which will be ‘opening soon’. All of this in the last five years.

There is so much that is happening in our lives. There are the old neighbourhoods that are changing rapidly and the new neighbourhoods that are leaping forward. We are becoming a consumerist society and our streets and neighbourhoods seem to mirror it all. You can look into this mirror and think 'our cities are changing' or you can look into it and think 'we are changing, did we want to?'

Related post:
Design Inspiration from the Bazaar

(Anjali, thanks for letting me take pictures with your camera and for your photograph of the blue facade!)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Marketplace as an aesthetic urban experience

Every marketplace in India is an aesthetic urban experience – whether it’s a flower market, a wholesale tomato market or a temple bazaar. I recollect and share here my experience of the flower market in Bangalore. It is an informal market that takes place for two hours every morning in the vicinity of the Krishna Rajendra market. The K.R. market zone is one of the most chaotic, congested and noisy neighbourhoods in the city of Bangalore. The city’s main intercity and local bus terminal and the main railway station are located within a radius of a kilometre from here. However, there is one time of the day when you would go there even if you had no task or purpose in mind, in the early mornings, just to enjoy the visual experience of the flower market.

The place where the market happens is not a street, it is not a square and it is not within a building. The market comes into being at an extremely busy traffic junction, a crossing of roads, a space just below a flyover. It is difficult to imagine this urban space as a flower market because it is not designed as a place for flowers and neither is it an organised traffic junction. It is simply a point in the city where the most number of cars, people and goods cross paths. This is where flower vendors gather every day and where business is brisk as retailers and individual customers buy flowers for consumption.

If one thinks about the edges of this urban space and of the flower market, one realises that it has no defined edges. The market stops where the last flower vendor sits. When there are no more flower vendors, there is no more flower market; until it appears again in a small lane much further away from the central location under the flyover. But, these small flower vendors in the small lanes continue to sell flowers throughout the day; whereas the main flower market opens at 5am and closes at 8am.

The visual experience of this market depends on who you are and why you are here. If you are a temple priest and have come to buy flowers for the rituals of the day, you may or may not take note of who sells large garlands and who sells small garlands. You may simply go towards the vendors who sell loose flowers and perhaps directly go to the vendor who knows your daily requirement of the golden yellow marigolds.

If you are a flower retailer and have come to pick flowers that you will sell in another part of the city, your experience of the market is an ‘everyday’ experience but you may want to look for the unusual and the exotic, your eyes searching for that which you have not seen the day before or the week before. Just as your eyes search for a special buy, your ears listen intently to the prices being shouted by the vendors as they deftly move their hands and raise their voices to attract customers.

If you are an individual visiting the market for a regular, weekly purchase of fruits and vegetables, you may walk through the paths that meander between flower vendors, partly just to enjoy the visual and the sensory experience of the morning and partly to choose which vendor has for you the best flowers at the best price.

If you are a tourist, a first-time visitor to the city of Bangalore, the visual and spatial experience of the market will be completely different for you. The colours of the flowers will make you walk this way and that in a marketplace that has no straight lines and no defined routes within it. On one hand, you will smell the roses and the jasmines and wafting through the same air will be unbearable smells of goods that have gone rotten and drains that are overflowing. Inspite of everything that doesn’t seem right, this walk can be a beautiful experience and one that you will always cherish!!

Related Posts:
Flower sellers: To create, to forget
Dadar Flower market, Mumbai
The Garland makers in the Bazaar

Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Marketplace as Urban Heritage – the Devaraja market in Mysore

The Devaraja market in Mysore was built during the reign of Chamaraja Wodeyar IX (1868 – 1894). It is said that there was at this place a small weekly market which may have been as old as the origin of the city itself. A few months ago the Mysore City Corporation invited a team from UNESCO to study the heritage structure and to help restore it. As I recollect the experience of the Devaraja market from my recent visit, I think about the ways in which we assimilate our observations and how we share our discoveries and our concerns. Often, we express ourselves in words and in pictures. If one had to make a film about the Devaraja market and its heritage, how would one begin?

I realise that the beginning of a film is not like the beginning of a book. In a book of non-fiction, you would begin with the Contents page. The reader must know what is to come in the pages that follow. In a book of fiction, there is no Contents page. It may be a story of love or a story of mystery and the ending must not be revealed. I suppose a Feature film would be made differently from a Documentary film. But, in a film, is it ever possible to have a Contents page? If one were to make a film about the Devaraja market, would it be about Urban heritage or about Architectural heritage?

Whilst telling a story about the architectural heritage of a place, we tend to talk about buildings and their preservation and yet, it is in the making of this built-heritage, in the hands of the artisans, that the value of the tradition lies. Who made the wooden truss roof and how? Who built the stone masonry walls and how? Who prepared the lime plaster and what was the skill that made it possible? The architectural heritage value of a market is in the physical expression of its craftmanship and the film would need to be about the traditional artisans; their skills, their beliefs and their lives, because without them, this heritage would not exist.

On the other hand, Urban heritage is deciphered through reading its many layers and a film about the marketplace as urban heritage needs to be about the social life, the cultural life and the economic life of the market precinct. I discuss here about these two kinds of heritage because Devaraja market needs to be valued both for its Urban heritage and its Architectural heritage. When a marketplace occupies a substantial part of the urban fabric, it influences the life of the city and is itself changed by how the city grows around it.

When I walked through the Devaraja market and got a sense of its planning, I found that it reflected the same principles that were deployed in the planning of Crawford market in Mumbai, the Russell market in Bangalore and the Connemara market in Trivandrum. In all of these markets, there is an architectural façade that faces the street on two sides while internally there are large open spaces for the formal market building to function as if it were an informal marketplace. I have yet to study this aspect of our colonial market buildings and to find out the reasons for this unique planning where an urban space is embedded within the architecture of a building. So, there is the urban space or public square that lies outside of the Devaraja market but also an urban space or private square within it, for the exclusive use of traders.

When you look at the Google earth map of this area, it is interesting to see how the Devaraja market (in red) was geographically located in the city and its proximity to the Palace complex. This is quite similar to the positioning of the Russell market in Bangalore with the public square outside it being a meeting point of arterial roads of the city. I have earlier written about this aspect of the Russell market at Urban structure – City Market and Russell market 

The second Google earth image zooms in further and we can see that the south end of the market is close to the K.R.Circle and opens into the public space with the Dufferin Clock tower built in 1886. Nearby is the Devaraja Urs road, which is presently the high density commercial street of the city. The east side of the market is flanked by Sayyaji Rao road and at its north end you can enter the market from Dhanvantari road.

Currently, the day-to-day functioning of the market with its 842 shops, spread over three acres is looked after by the Municipal Corporation of Mysore. They have an office within the market building to manage its affairs. I had an opportunity to speak to Mr.Kuppuswamy, one of the staff members there. I learnt from him that the market is owned by the Corporation and it gives out spaces to vendors on a rental basis. The Corporation officer makes his rounds every day to collect rents from the individual vendors.

There are shops along the edges of the market that face the main streets and these pay rents from Rs.4000 to Rs.10,000 per month, depending on the area of the shop. Besides these, there are semi-enclosed stalls (angadis) that are in the large open space within the market complex, where rents vary from Rs.5 per day to Rs.50 per day. The Rs.5 per day are the fruit and vegetable vendors and the Rs.50 per day i.e.Rs.1500 per month are the Kum Kum shops and Flower shops towards the south of the market. The Municipal Corporation prefers to collect the rental charge on a daily basis since it reduces the risk of recovery. The buying and selling of fruits, vegetables, flowers, incense, betel nut, kumkum powder  seems to be the everyday life of the market, a life about the livelihood of the vendors and the needs of the people of contemporary Mysore.

Going back into history a little, I include here some excerpts from the book ‘History of the Wodeyars of Mysore (1610-1748) published by the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Mysore in 1996. The chapter on ‘Society and Economy’ notes that: “A market place or a bazaar was an essential feature of town life. A large number of people depended upon trade and commerce. The artisans, the cloth merchants, the metal smiths, oil mongers, carpenters, goldsmiths, jewellers, tailors, cobblers and so on lived in their respective localities. The rulers of Mysore encouraged trade and commerce by laying good roads in the kingdom, introducing a unified system of currency and standardising weights and measures in the kingdom. An important feature of urban economy was the organisation of guilds. The merchant guilds carried on trade in articles like cloth, cotton-yarn, betel nuts, tobacco, sandal wood, wax, ghee, turmeric, pepper, ginger, betel nuts, tobacco, sandalwood and so on.”

Today, as you experience a marketplace, you know you can go back and look at a Google earth image of it, you know you can trace its history in books, you can read recent newspaper reports about its daily affairs. You know a bit more each time. And, yet nothing seems enough. You hope that one day there will also be a film about the Devaraja market that will unravel a story of heritage and a story of time.