Mandai- Mandi-Bazaar…. Call it by any name – what comes to the mind is a vibrant, colourful, lively place!
These days the cities are so large, the distances so long, time taken to travel so much, it is better to look for a market in your area where you get most of your daily stuff.
Not so during our childhood, however! Life was a little more laid back compared to today, and things were not so much in abundance. And THE place to go to for all your needs often used to be the main market of the city.
It is interesting how a city would grow around this motley collection of shops selling everything from fruits and vegetables to clothes to household utensils to hardware and the areas would often seamlessly morph into each other, yet be demarcated!
I love to visit the Laxmi Road, Tulshibaug, Mandai area in Pune. And though I live a good 15 km away from this place, I look forward to it once in a few months. I have a running list on my phone on what all to buy and do once I go there… Small things, which are not direly urgent, yet can be sourced only from there!
And so began my shop-hopping one evening right before Diwali… Sugandhi “utne” in a shop; a copper “Langdi” which is a traditional Maharashtrian cooking utensil, which I had in mind to buy since a long time, Rangoli and colours for Diwali ( hoped to make some pretty designs, albeit with readymade stencils during Diwali), some pretty lace and buttons for a dress, interspersed with eating a sweet, lovely, round-as-a-tennis ball guava with lots of “namak-mirchi”on it, buying fresh chafa flowers which made my house fragrant for quite a few days, sampling some goodies for Diwali before deciding where to buy from, a lovely old style ceramic jar ( the typical no-fuss brown and white kinds, I just love them!!), the freshest greens one can get… The list went on!
All this while, pulling myself back from buying so many other things which I wanted but didn’t need! 
A lovely lantern – no wait, I have a beautiful one from the last year still!

Those luminous, tinkling glass bangles – hello!! You don’t even wear bangles!!

Piles and piles of dry spices and fresh condiments … Hey! You just bought dhania yesterday and you don’t really need that bright red dried chilli, or that enticing mound of turmeric or the wonderful golden “dhep” of jaggery! Your pantry has them all!!
The shops were all decked up with strings of fairy lights for the festive season and everybody – shopkeepers and shoppers alike, had this boundless energy which one sees only during the festive season. Irrespective of the choice, the taste, the budget individually, the fervour is the same. People jostling for space in shops and on roads, occasional visitors like me taking in more of the sights than the goodies, street vendors vying for prime spots on the road to hawk their goods from, the haggling for a few rupees, where the vendor and the buyer both know too well that a little rope will yield a lot…
I sound a little weird to myself when I say that this trip rejuvenated me… I mean, come on, aren’t we these days always trying to find some peace and quiet, to “get away from it all??” Our entire tourism industry strives to give us that “away-from-the-hubbub; find-solitude-in-nature” experience!
But I am like that only, folks! 
Love malls and all, but this was “THE EXPERIENCE ” for me; and I enjoy it every single time I go to the city market!! In fact, I don’t even leave the village bazaars alone, love to visit them whenever I happen to visit any smaller places!! What sights and sounds and colours they have!! 
I have some very fond memories of the bazaar in a small town called Kashipur in Uttarakhand which I used to visit often during my student days in Delhi. My friend from there and I would end up every winter evening at the “Kachari ka thela”. This delicacy, Kachari, is made of singhada or water chestnuts and is very, very local to this area only! Boiled water chestnuts, mashed and then finished on the hot griddle on a generous pat of Amul butter with the special Kachari masala and served with a flourish in an Eco-friendly, disposable leaf bowl, with another generous pat of butter and lemon juice on top! Lip-smacking!! I tried coaxing the thelewala countless times into giving me the recipe for the masala, which is what imparts the taste to this Kachari, but inspite of all the cajoling all that I ever got was an indulgent smile! Sigh!!

I have bought swathes of cloth in this seemingly tiny place which a clever tailor in Delhi then converted into such beautiful suits, they could give any boutique-bought clothes a run for their money! 
The bazaars of the capital were an exhilarating experience altogether. More so, because as students and later, as a person with a first job and not too much saving, the shopping would be fuelled by the urge to squeeze maximum value out of every rupee spent! 

Karolbagh, Sarojininagar, Janpath, Palika Bazaar, Connaught Place, Lajpatnagar, to the swank Santushti mall, South Extension or Greater Kailash or Hauz Khas boutiques – the variety in each of these places was mind boggling! Each market had its own distinct flavour and was characterised by the stuff and the food sold there! And often where to shop would be decided by not what we wanted to buy, but more by what we felt like eating that particular day!! 
Flea markets, bazaars and city/town markets are always, for me, the places to scour on visits to any new place. The hustle and bustle there, the hum of activity, the constant buzz is the pulse of the place. It is an indicator of the economic affairs of the place, a barometer of how well people are living. The thriving wholesale grain markets, fruit and vegetable markets, flower markets, spices and condiments’ markets – all indicate the well being of the population. For an agrarian society like ours, even one bad year because of drought means a huge drop in the purchasing power of the common man. A market place will reflect that immediately. The vibrancy of these markets is directly proportional to good monsoons and good harvests. And yet, even if there is an occasional bad year, these are the markets which will see activity, not the malls or the swank branded stores. Because a mall trip fulfils desires, not needs – mall goods are not essentials and hence completely dispensable! 
Not to say that I don’t like malls! Oh no, I love them! On days when I am in a mood to indulge and pamper myself and don’t feel like battling the bustling city crowds or haggling with the street vendors – when I want to pamper myself with my favourite brands of cosmetics, shoes, bags or clothes – when I want to shop but not sweat and feel like a Capuccino at Starbucks rather than a cutting chai at a roadside “laari” – when I want to buy feta and Emental and basil and sriracha rather than paneer, dhania and hari mirch – that is when I love going to malls. Where I can shop in air-conditioned comfort rather than trudge along in the heat or rain! Malls at such time are a bliss!
Knowing my love for visiting the local markets, my husband always indulges me with a half day of “me-time” in whichever place we visit! He accompanies me if he can indulge his love for local food at the market; if he can’t, he indulges me with time away from him and the kids to explore the market on my own. One such thoroughly memorable visit was to the “Viktualienmarkt” in Munich – the mandi of Munich, if you please! Fruits, veggies, beer, condiments and Christmas decorations in a spotlessly clean square which earlier used to be a farmers’ market, but is now the place to go to for essential shopping! What an experience it was, to shop and practice my German at the same time! And small discounts because of the novelty of an Indian tourist speaking German – an added bonus! A feeling of absolute warmth, contentment and fulfilment to be told that you speak very good German – by the Germans! Oh, yes – that market visit was memorable in more ways than one!!


The Viktualienmarkt in Munich, Germany.

And thus continues my love affair with markets! Got absolutely wonderful ceramic jars and bowls from a road-side shop in Lonavla last weekend! And a beautiful scarf in the market there at half the normal price!! 
The next planned trip is to a city I’ve never visited before and is known for its markets. Am already planning on what all to eat and what all to buy!! 
Happy market-gallivanting to me!!

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