That blue ripple in the tarpaulin
pulled taut in the cool breeze
the first farmer pulls up his sleeves,
two bamboo poles and a few jute strings
hold his shop, his business, his offerings;
one morning among many centuries.
The tilted-goats, the hunched-dogs, the burly-bulls
the dupatta-women, the dyed-men, their mouthfuls
I stand in the distance, watching this timeless commotion
watching dealers deal, buyers buy – those customs.
The shirtless boy bringing chai on naked feet
the eyeless hand touching the paper cup to lips
eyes caught up with money stashed ‘neath the feet.
A bajār treasury is capped by the light,
that taut blue tarpaulin
that dust settling upon the skin.
I watch with attention at this ancient system
in this timeless happening, I see one figurine
exhaling tobacco clouds, ballerina of the crowds
he moves to the center, that corner, then back again
he heeds the serenades, the auctioneers, the marketmen
his handfuls multiplying in plastic greens, yellows, purples
past the blue tarpaulin
past the first farmer
past the last butcher
past the liquor line.
That blue fold in the tarpaulin
pulled loose in the evening
the last farmer embraces the wind;
four empty baskets, bamboo and folded strings,
his coin purse, his livelihood, his earnings,
his earthen feet, as old as forgotten centuries.
The goats, the dogs, the bulls, contently munching
the scarf-clad women, the paan-chewing men, leaving
I stand still, stuck in a sequential moment
Watching fruits start to ferment, carts in movement.
The sinew boy with a broom twice his length
feet with tensile strength, a face I cannot place
eyes gazing into space beyond this marketplace.
A bajār of the night is as feral as the wild,
as cold as the old shoeless feet
as dusty as the stampeding hoof-beat.
I watch with attention at this recurring vision
In this timeless, sequential happening, that figurine
has forgotten jalebi and pakoda for his children
has replaced barbatti with baingan, chicken with mutton
has stepped in cow dung, scraped it on a border stone
has gulped three pegs before he returns
past the barren stalls
past the sounder of swine,
past where he stood that morning
watching that blue ripple in the tarpaulin.
Weekly markets, locally known as bajār (pronounced bajaar; from bazaar), are a place of many wonders. Every cluster of villages, in one of the larger villages, hold a weekly market where farmers, middlemen, commodity traders, barterers, customers, come to sell and purchase anything from jewelry to meat to vegetables to limestone; sometimes in the shade they sell ice blocks, too. I’ve been fascinated ever since I visited a Budhwar Bajar (Wednesday market) in central India in 2013; I continue to visit every time I get opportunity. I’ve always wanted to write about it. This piece captures one moving frame of the countless many, of the buyer (the figurine) and the seller (the farmer) and the people (the customers) and the ambiance (the market itself) and the faculties (the chai-wala and the sweeper).
You may not identify a weekly market as this, but do visit the village bajār once, whether you purchase anything or not, you will see a country, with all its incoherent narratives such as this, that have been repeating cyclically for centuries.
This may yet be the most different piece to appear on Sahyadrica, if you still consider the last few pieces sane, but this is a part of a culture I’m integrating into my writing alongside the wilderness. I’m afraid you will also see some of my explorations this year that don’t exactly speak of nature (but are a part of it) in the truest sense.