Guwahati,

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The Great Bazaar Experience

 

 Our very own magician of verses, the Nightingale of India, Sarojini Naidu, in one of her poems "In the Bazaars of Hyderabad" eloquently draws in vividly live imagery the beauty of a typical Indian bazaar; one full of merchants, flower girls, trinket peddlers and fruit sellers among many others. She makes us hear their voices, from the shrill haranguing kind, to the bargaining kind and even the flattering tone spoken by the ladies dress vendors. You may wonder what's new in them or what's so special that they deserve such mention? And I would say they are the perfect balm for a stressed soul; our bazaars, in their own apt way, kicks out the gloom in our souls to make us alive through the sweet humdrum of their own hustle and din. 

The word Bazaar originated in the middle-east from the Persian word 'bazar' and since back then they have been the perennial life source for the numerous masses of human habitations throughout history. Historical trade routes passed through the great bazaars of yore- from Cario, to the Persian Markets and the great bazaars of Lahore and Delhi. The bazaars invoked life in to each of the cities they were located in. They became the culmination point of thinking minds, business minds, the ordinary family minds and also the culturally inclined ones.Histories of nations sometimes got built around these markets. They were places where you would find all kinds of stuff, from spices to fruits to colorful dresses or pots-- in short all things a great city would need to come alive.
Most bazaars are food meccas too. Be it the food taverns, or the tea stalls, the sweet shops or the ones selling fried mutton chops with chutney, bazaars have always abounded in stalls which soothed the palate of hungry shoppers and sellers alike. So when after a fun filled morning of buying groceries, vegetables, fish or meat, fathers and mothers took their children to these stalls, you actually saw the joy in those small hearts as you hear them swallowing their own saliva in anticipation of the treats to come. 
Markets of the past or even now in some distant villages always attracted magic shows, dancing troupes or jumping monkeys. Ask your parents and they will reminisce memories of bazaar street magicians who made coins disappear form their hands or made innocent bystanders deaf and dumb and would not return their voice till they thrust enough money in to their hands. The monkey man and the snake charmers too were important entertainers in the bazaars, a perennial crowd always surrounding them whenever they would even feign to begin their act. Grown-ups and young alike watched starry eyed and open mouthed as fangless cobras danced and sprightly apes showed their jumping antics. They were such a force to reckon with that most renowned stories from our subcontinent, from Malgudi Days to the famous novel Kim by Rudyard Kipling or our Ruskin Bond stories always had a bazaar scene with them playing a part.
The best part of any bazaar here or anywhere is the sweet tangy haggling over prices. We never consider our visit to the bazaar worthwhile if we do not compare onion prices at five different stalls and still buy it from the sixth stall since its' onions have the best overall shape and color. All along we bargain over the prices with all the vendors and try to coax them to sell it for nothing almost. The onion seller will act as if he fell for your trap of words and let go of his wares at a loss and we come out of the stall with a bag full of onions and a triumphant smile. The same process now gets repeated for the vegetables, fish, meat all other essentials. The bazaar is such a place where reputations are made or broken. If somebody's husband got a healthy rooster at one tenth less of the market price, his wife would make sure that everybody in her immediate neighborhood would burn in jealous knowledge of the same. Heaven have mercy on some other poor husband of the same vicinity who that day got another plump chicken for going rate in the market.
Words will always fall short if we have to describe a bazaar in detail. How do you describe the sly answer of the fish vendor when asked about the freshness of his stock or the joy of watching an old lady haggle over the price of a bamboo basket, leaving the vendor for his over pricing and subsequently when the basket vendor succumbs to her bargaining skills and lets her have her price, the beaming smile on her face. The chicken shouts from roosters who see their friends slaughtered, or the bleating of goats tied next to the biryani shop or the sacred ox which can have his choice of potatoes and cabbages from the largest vegetable vendor without fear of a sandal bearing down his behind. The calling out of special wares and dresses from supposedly distant lands and the swarms of people which get hypnotized by that voice. The whole Bazaar thing is an experience in itself. It has to be felt to be understood. 
Be it the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, the world's largest market, or the New Market of Kolkata or Mumbai's Crawford Market or Dilli Haat, or our very own market of Shillong or Guwahati, and the Ima Market in Imphal (run by only women), there is always a feeling of hustle and bustle in them. Bazaars make you feel alive; you may be buying bamboo shoots in Imphal or swanky clothes in Dilli Haat or Turkish delights in Istanbul, you cannot be absentminded in a Bazaar-your senses are always at the optimum. The desire to get the best goods at the cheapest price, the thrill of price haggling, the watching of numerous people buying goods has something of a magical irresistibility to it. 
Bazaars by definition are places where buyers and sellers meet to exchange goods for money. But in that small exchange we ultimately come to experience life as it should be--fun, full of liveliness and one big happy experience. We just don't purchase goods in our bazaars, indeed we purchase many of our smiles.