Before the air-conditioned malls there were markets, and before these sanitised ubiquitous Galleria/ Defence Colony/ Khan Markets of Indian cities there were traditional Indian bazaars. Some of these bazaars were static in a smaller locality like Vishwanath Gali in Varanasi or Indira Market of Noida and some were moving bazaars called haats which travelled to various parts of the city on the fixed days.
These haats were almost like melas, families out in full force because there was something for everyone. The farm-fresh vegetables and fruits jostled for space with spices and kitchen utensils. There were household items, clothes, footwear and other items of necessities as well. And when one got tired of shopping, there were also stalls for chaat, pakoras depending upon the season and local cuisine. And joy rides, toy stalls to keep the children busy.
These bazaars are now getting extinct from the human memory replaced with the concept of modern bazaars. Having lived in a closed society environ of a university, I was also largely unfamiliar with this concept. Of course, there were sattis in Banaras, for fruits and vegetables; and there were specific markets for specific things like khoya gali for sweets, thateri bazaar for utensils, dal mandi for all wholesale supplies. And what was unique in Banaras was a satti specially for wholesale buying and selling for flowers (more on that later). But it was only when I came and settled in Delhi that I became familiar with these moving haat bazaars.
So after settling in Noida, our household supply of weekly vegetables and fruits has started coming from these haats and on few such visits I have come to see and experience the cacophony and vibrancy of traditional Indian haats. It’s the jostling amidst masses from all walks of life, buffalo carts and cars and motorbikes all trying to move alongside in that limited stretch, smells of roasting bhutta or popcorns and peanuts hitting senses along with smells of seasonal fruits or coriander and mint that create this unique shopping experience.