food / travel

Past And Present Mingle In The Vibrant Markets Of Delhi

Delhi market at night
Delhi market at night
Sohail Hashmi

NEW DELHI — While growing up we were subjected, like most school-going children in this country, to rather boring texts in class. The texts were taught by teachers who were even less interested in the excruciatingly painful narratives than we were. The results of such exchanges were obvious: we remember little of what we were taught.

Amid all our vagrant behavior, when we were trying our level best to – in the words of Mark Twain – not allow school to interfere with our education, there were things that were somehow imbibed and some of them have remained embedded in our minds.

One of these is a description of a weekly market. It is called a Haat or a Penth in Uttar Pradesh, a Peth in Maharashtra, like the Budhwar Peth in Pune and as Pet, for example, Alwarpet and Saidapet, etc, in Tamil Nadu.

The Pets were in the nature of quasi-permanent markets, unlike the Peths of Maharashtra and the Haats or Penths of North India, which were weekly markets.

The scene of utter chaos, the hustle and bustle, the pushing and shoving, the calls of the hawkers, kids running all over the place and crotchety old men making themselves more insufferable by the minute are the images that flit in and out, like a kaleidoscopic vision, the moment we try to recollect the description of the Penth in our school textbooks.

It is this scene of chaotic excitement that had stayed with us and, once we moved out of the protected cocoon of living in New Delhi and became aware of the existence of these markets in different parts of South, West, East and North Delhi, it all came rushing back.

Gradually, over the years, we began to observe these markets a little more closely and realized that they were not so chaotic and disorganized as they may have first appeared.

One thing that became clear very soon was that the weekly markets essentially traded in four broad categories of merchandise: (i) spices, grains, pulses, beans, legumes, readymade pickles and ingredients for do-it-yourself pickles and cooking related implements like grinding stones, pestles, mortars and cooking vessels (ii) fruits, vegetables, fish and chicken (iii) garments, and shoes both export surplus items, hand-me-downs in good condition, the kind one would find in a flea market and "original duplicates' like ‘Adibas' and ‘Nice" and cooking vessels and (iv) plastic goods like buckets, mugs, stools, strainers etc.

A closer inspection of the vegetables being sold threw up an interesting angle to the kinds of vegetables being sold in different localities. For example areas with a concentration of people from the four southern states had many stalls selling drum-sticks, areas with Kashmiri neighborhoods had greens like kadam and haak, vegetables which were not so easily available in other areas and markets that had a large number of shoppers from the eastern states, especially Bengal and Bihar, had more fishmongers than the other weekly markets.

Old and newish in Delhi market —Photo: Tom Thai

The most striking thing about these markets is the fact that they come up on a fixed day of the week at a location which is close to an ‘urban village." For example, the Thursday market near a Mother Dairy outlet in Patparganj is close to Mandawli, the one that comes up every Friday near St. Thomas Church opposite Safdarjang Enclave is next door to Mohammadpur, the one that comes up near Sector 13 in Rohini, probably every Sunday, is located next to Razapur, while the Saturday Bazar opposite Fortis Hospital in Vasant Kunj is set up every Saturday next to Kishangarh.

The proximity of each of these markets to a village, and there are hundreds of these weekly markets spread through the length and breadth of what is now known as Delhi, is proof, in our reckoning, that these markets have been around for as long as these villages have existed.

Once the antiquity of these villages is established it will be seen that these hafta bazars (weekly markets) for that is how they are known, are an institution that has existed for almost a millennia and in some cases even longer. We say this because the villages would have existed here before the Tomars, the Mamluks, the Khiljis and others decided to rule from Delhi.

Take the village of Adhchini, for example. Adhchini means half-built, there must have been an unfinished building in the area that gave the village its name, this is only an educated guess, but if the word of old timers is to be taken seriously, this village was earlier known as Sarai Namak.

What is beyond dispute, however, is the fact that Nizam-ud-Din Aulia, his widowed, mother, Bibi Zulekha, known to her devotees as Mai Saheba and her brother took a house on rent in Adhchini when they moved out of Hauz Rani. Mai Saheba, who was herself a venerated Sufi, died in 1250 and was buried in her own hospice, in a tradition that many Sufis followed.

Now, what does this have to do with the hafta bazars you may justifiably ask? We will take up this question once we have shown that all these villages have a long history.

The narration is intended to underscore two things, one that the village, whether it was then known as Sarai Namak or Adhchini, was well-settled before Mai Saheba moved in, and that Hauz Rani was also a well-settled village, where the family had taken a house on rent when they moved to Delhi from Badaun.

It's evidence that all these sites were inhabited from earlier times.

The second point that we need to remember is the fact that villages do not normally have empty houses that one can hire and so both Adhchini and Hauz Rani must have been more then villages, almost like suburbs of Mehrauli – the site of Lal Kot, the first of the seven Capitals of Delhi, and that is why they had accommodations that could be rented.

The same can be said of many villages in Delhi, which are dotted with Sultanate period structures – mausoleums, mosques, water reservoirs and other structures. This is evidence that all these sites were inhabited from earlier times and that is why these structures were built on these locations, clearly no one is going to build water reservoirs and mosques and mausoleums in the wilderness.

Just as all villages or cluster of villages, spread across the length and breadth of India continue to be visited by traders who are constantly on the move, hawking their wares from village to village, the villages of Delhi are also similarly visited and the hafta bazars that serve them have to be a continuation of the hafta bazars that began centuries ago.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!