Experiencing India One Bite at a Time
At 7:30 on a Sunday morning, my mom and I caught a taxi from downtown Mumbai to Andheri, a suburb, attempting to beat the morning traffic that would soon encapsulate the area. As air-conditioned taxis aren’t the “norm” in the city, we took advantage of the refreshing breeze from the open windows. As we momentarily halted, a makeshift market of fruits and vegetables greeted us. Dozens of suppliers, surrounded by their fresh goods, were scattered on the side of the road; furthermore, there were average citizens, both men and women, deliberately wandering from one supplier to another in attempts to find the most economical bargain.
From the taxi window, I saw scattered vendors each embellished with their own comestibles: melons, okra, chilies, amongst others. Crates of crops sat on the dirt road so that the dust intermingled with the items in it. I noticed men throughout the mart, with sweat-stained clothing, sitting on crates turned upside down. As I was admiring some fruits laid out on the road on a piece of blue tarp, a woman approached them. After arguing a little about the price with the seller, she exchanged a few rupees for some bananas. But the bananas weren’t packaged, I observed. Nor were they in a plastic bag. The woman was carrying the bananas in her bare hands. There weren’t any conventional carts to carry around tentative supplies in, custom-made plastic bags with logos, nor fixed rates on any of the edibles.
I soon pulled out my phone to capture the scene, so different from the grocery stories I regularly visit in Houston. Images filled with the sharp contrast of the leafy greens and the greyish tone of the road brought my attention to the backdrop of the scene. Rather than black wallpaper accompanied by regulated sprinklers found in most grocery stores, there were unrefined houses, shops and alleyways behind this impressive early-morning feat. And the most surprising part, it was absolutely normal for the city of more than 22 million people.
Alas, the boundaries of the taxi separated me from the intense enterprise that stood before me. Stumbling out of the taxi and onto the road, my feet landed in a pool of green leafy remnants. As I looked around, I realized that the leaves of the mint bundles I would seldom find on the bottom of the crates at Kroger were now endlessly spread across the heavily trafficked roadsides. To my right, I found a filthy transportation truck; the goods in the truck were arranged on the bare floor, without a surface separating the leaves and the tarnished, uneven surface. A man stood inside the storage compartment, barefoot in the midst of goods, and lobbed them to his companion standing outside. I walked from one vendor to another, overwhelmed by the detail-oriented bazaar. I couldn’t decide whether to focus on the spectrum of greens that engulfed me, the inexplicable fresh, sweet smell under the blanket of heavy pollution, edibles that made my mouth water with desire or the constant conversing of vendor and buyer about prices.
Appalled by the seemingly unsanitary practices that flooded the area, I approached a vendor that looked like he had been in the business for a long time. “Don’t these unsanitary practices make you sick?” I asked with my broken Hindi.
“Just wash them and you’ll be fine,” he said in a hurry. He looked up to see my intrigued face and understood that I wasn’t from the area. Smiling, he explained, “Madam, this is how our parents raised us -look at us now. There’s nothing wrong with us, is there?” I shook my head as I gave him a few rupees for a bundle of Borassus, a local fruit.
Stepping away, I looked right and left. Surrounded by the early morning hustle of the civilians, the transitional market had mesmerized me. The refreshing breeze turned into an intolerable moist, hot breath as my mother called to me to return to the taxi.
After that morning, I looked back on the market every time that I passed by. Because even though they didn’t have contemporary methods or materials, they had devised a routine that effectively got them through each and every day, for ages, it seemed. There was an indescribable feeling about the market, one too complex to be formulated into words. A feeling that could only be derived from standing in the middle of the bustle.
Want more buzz like this? Sign up for our Morning Buzz emails.
To leave a comment, please log in or create an account with The Buzz Magazines, Disqus, Facebook, Twitter or Google+. Or you may post as a guest.