A Bad Day and a Good Day in the Market, Indian style

Blogging challenges, India

When abroad – or even somewhere fresh here in the UK – a big pleasure comes from visiting the local market.  People-watching ordinary folk going about their daily business: seeing what’s on offer at the run-of-the-mill fruit and veg stalls.  What are the local cheeses?  Is there any honey from round and about? What have they got on sale that‘s unexpected?  Perhaps a stall holder will invite me to try this kind of apricot – and then that one – before I buy.  Maybe a nun from the local convent will be selling home-pressed apple juice.

In India, it was spices I was particularly keen to see.  But in Mysore, which isn’t short of European visitors, I had such a bad time I almost didn’t venture into a market again.  I had Tourist emblazoned across my forehead for all to see.  And I was pestered, by one young man in particular, who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, whether I was nice, nasty or ignored him.. Whatever.  I left with no purchase, and in a very bad mood.  Though later I got a few photos – the ones you see below and as the featured photo.

Pondicherry was much better.  Here were men, women, seated on the floor and selling whatever they had – a few vegetables from their land, a few fish.  There were larger, more business-like stalls too.  I was doing my usual diffident-about-asking-to-take-photos there, so I only have one of a  woman selling fish, and one water buffalo, who made a good story for the day by peeing copiously all over my feet.

Best of all was Thanjavur.  Here, I stayed with a young American academic, who spoke fluent Tamil, and took me into the homes of her Indian friends, walked me round the back streets to admire the Diwali pavement decorations, and generally gave me a good time.

  One day, she wanted me to go to the market for her.  Just a few simple purchases.  Carrots, onions, that kind of thing. For the first time in India, I met people who spoke no English at all.  And my Tamil didn’t extend beyond ‘please’(தயவு செய்து Tayavu ceytu)  and ‘thank you’ (நன்றி Nanri).  But pointing’s fine.

I don’t think they’d ever had an English tourist wanting anything, let alone humble carrots at the vegetable stall, and soon I was the centre of an amiable group helping me make my purchases.  They tried to increase my vocabulary, and begged me to teach them the same words in English because it was the end of the day and they weren’t busy.  It was such fun.  And when it came to payment, I tried to press far too much money into their hands.  I thought they’d asked for 70 rupees (about 70 pence), and felt it cheap at the price.  How ridiculous!  They wanted seven.  Honestly, that English woman!  Is she made of money?  And my new friend, the one who actually served me with the vegetables I needed, begged for a photo.  Here it is.

My friend in the Market

So here we are: Two market traders for Just One Person from Around the World. There are a few more from where these came from. If we can’t go very far, we could at least do a Virtual Trip to India for a week or two.

The Great Indian Train Journey: Mysore to Thanjavur.

India

Mysore to Thanjavur: 415 km by road, more than 600 km. by rail, and a 12 hour overnight journey: £6.00.

Bike park outside Mysore Station.

I’d booked my ticket the day before, and arrived at the station as directed, about an hour ahead of its scheduled departure.  It was just as well.  A station official took pity (for a small fee…) on the clueless European , who had no idea that she had to check in, in the manner of an airline passenger, or that she would find her seat by looking for her name on the passenger lists posted at each carriage door.

On the station platform, everyone was getting on with life.  A large family spread themselves on the ground, got out metal plates and canisters of food and got stuck in.  Rather than sit in a hot train, I headed for the calm of the Ladies’ Waiting Room until it was nearly time to go.

The train itself, once it got started got into the habit of making long stops nowhere in particular.  Chai and coffee boys went up and down the train.

As darkness fell, I was struck by the low level of lighting in the towns we passed through, and more particularly the stations.  Even at Bangalore, where we stopped for ages.  More chai, coffee and water sellers got on, then  vendors selling hot meals: I chose a vegetarian meal with rice and several different vegetable dishes – hot and very good value.  A young woman got on, having had her hands and wrists recently henna-ed on both sides.  Managing her life, which seemed to consist of calling people on her mobile, without using her not-yet-dry hands was quite a challenge. One family produced a three course supper with several dishes, on metal plates, then mum disappeared to wash up at the sink in the corridor.  I had different conversations with various passengers, limited by our inabilities in each other’s languages.

At about 9.00, we all got ready for bed. Our compartment got separated out into two sets of beds at three levels and smartly uniformed staff handed out crisply laundered sheets, pillows and a double blanket each for us to make up our beds in our own way.  For once, I slept … until 4.00, when so many passengers got out at Trichy.  I had only an hour to go before arriving at Thanjavur.

I was dreading having to wait on a dark deserted station for two hours (Waiting for whom? Another tale for another time). But it wasn’t deserted.  Not at all.  The booking hall was thronged with men – young men, old men, all sitting in convivial groups on the ground sorting and collating that day’s newspapers.  It took them almost the whole two hours that I had to wait until the next chapter of my story began….

Click on any image to view full size and to read the captions.

This was part of my Indian Adventure, November 2007.  I have used the place names that were then widely used, rather than the official names, which now seem more widely adopted.