We live in an age of convenience. It is convenient to buy groceries from an online store or from a supermarket down the street. However, this convenience has made us forget the charm of a bazaar, which is lost amidst all these online grocery stores and supermarkets surrounding us.
I realized this when I went to Russell Market, one of Bangalore’s oldest markets which was built in 1927. Bazaars have a unique, friendly atmosphere where customers can bargain to their heart’s content- something online shopping and supermarkets will never witness. The freshness of flowers, succulence of fruits and vegetables combined with the scent of the historic market are bound to release a feeling excitement and belongingness.
In order to understand the market better, I asked couple of vendors a few questions.
Mr. Tabrez, the owner of ‘Baisath Flowerstall’ who has been working here for the past 16 years, informed me that his day starts at 4 a.m. He buys the flowers from ‘City Market’ and then sells them here, at Russell Market, till 4 in the evening.
He says that his sales have unfortunately declined over time, owing to three main reasons. Firstly, supermarkets have sprung up all over the city. Secondly, there is lack of parking space. Thirdly, due to India’s latest economic phenomenon- ‘Demonetization’, which took place towards the end of last year, had a drastic effect on their sales.
Nevertheless, they are recovering and are still managing to do good business as they are flocked with loyal customers who have been coming to them for years now.
Below is a small video which captures the preparation of a ‘mala’ or a flower garland. Tabrez and his colleagues make more than 100 garlands on a daily basis and twice the amount during festive seasons.
As I went further into the market, I discovered Mr. A. Fazloor Rehman’s store which has been here from the early days of Russell Market.
“My grandfather opened this store in 1927,” he says proudly, “I am the third generation running this store. There have been a lot of changes since those days. They used to get the produce on bullock-carts from the farms in those days. There were less middlemen that time. Now we get it from City Market, in trucks. We keep improving with development.”
In 2012, a part of Russell Market mysteriously caught fire, burning down a row of stores, including Mr. Rehman’s.
“We suffered for four months,” he recalled. “During this time, we had to sell our vegetables outside the market. A few owners of other stores and myself created a small union where we pooled in our money to reconstruct our stores. Before we knew it, we were all back in business!”
Mr. Rehman’s store sells a variety of vegetables which has kept generations of customers coming back for more each time. He enjoys the personal interaction with his customers which is what defines the unique customer experience in such markets.
As I concluded my visit in the market, I learnt that there is a reason why supermarkets come and go while compared to traditional markets which last for centuries. It is because of the personal touch. It is easy to establish friendship with vendors in such markets, which is much more comforting that air conditioned supermarkets. It is inherent in our culture to welcome others and provide the best service possible.
In supermarkets, you will have to go with the look and feel of the fruits and vegetables, with the hope that your choice will be satisfactory. On the other hand, vendors in traditional markets go to the extent of cutting a small slice of a fruit for their customer, to ensure that they will taste something more than just satisfactory.
Walking through Russell Market gave me a refreshing perspective of markets. It is not only a home to trade, it is a home of culture as well.