Before the delivery boy comes

Really what are the chances that I stayed up till two in the morning watching gigantic shrimps stewing in their own juices becoming a spectacular seafood stock? Slim, slim but that is what happened last night.

There is something fascinating about big, open markets. In Bombay I used to fall out of the bus and trains when we passed the sabzi mandis with green mountains of watermelons and sturdy piles of orange carrots and shiny baingans. In Saath Bangla one side of a long, narrow street is lined with Koli fisherwomen on low, wooden platforms selling fish all day long. If you stand across the street you have the kind of great picture that look like the banquet scenes from Asterix and Obelix. The Kolins are loud, witty, wear bright coloured sarees, yards of jasmine in their hair and show plenty of bosom. (Just like in the movies? Really, whole city is full of people who make you wonder, "Did the movies get here first or their clothes get here first?") They sit in grand indolence flanked by piles of fat and little fish. And under every wooden platform are cats of every colour and every degree of hope. Happy is the eye of the beholder of Saath Bangla.

Thatha and Toady are the ones who showed me that open markets are not just beautiful and great fun. They took me to Russel Market in Bangalore and told me how the mighty, insomniac market runs. Toady is particularly passionate about the politics of food and open markets. Under her tutelage I spent three months reading and writing about crops, GM foods, pesticides, the slow food movement and kitchen gardens. She really changed how I see markets.

Before I came to Dilli I was feeling miffed about how I would have to give up my open markets but luckily I was wrong. The city is swarming with the most juicy mandis. Last evening I was taken to the INA market, Spellcheck warned me its not really the most politically correct place to be in seeing that it stocks Korean sticky rice and shitake mushrooms and extraordinarily expensive seafood. All that turned out to be true but the market has the live wire energy and enormous charm of great, fascinating markets. Every kind of vegetable and fruit you could imagine. Shops stocking only products shipped from the Middle East with product descriptions only in Arabic. Buckets rippling with moustached, muscular catfish and a bay full of bright blue and pink prawns. Have you noticed how butchers are silent and fish-sellers chat you up with shark-like, deeply cynical smiles?

I could hear Malayalam from the moment I entered which made me grin but I fell about laughing when I saw large signs advertising uniforms for nurses headed to Saudi Arabia. Oh the peculiar Mallu joy.

Now I have to hang around waiting for the delivery boy to arrive with the fresh cream. Ahoy, biscuit pudding. Come on over.


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