Isn’t it funny how things you once abhorred become wonderful and romantic as your memories are tinged with sepia?
As a child, there was nothing worse than Maadavidhi market. I hated tagging along with my Mother as she bought Leo Coffee Powder, vegetables, sugar and the other sundries that a middle class family run on. If I whined too much and seemed to be on the verge of a temper tantrum she would leave me in the car and wind her way through the thronging mass of shoppers, cows and TVS Champs. I would look out the window and pass the time by counting the number of white 800s that drove by. It would amuse me for about 10 minutes and then I would get fidgety. I would keep a lookout for my mother among the sea of faces. Sometimes I would perk up at the sight of a woman in a similar sari, thinking it was her. But as the woman walked by the car, weighed down by her purchases and who knows what else, my heart would sink.
I would be angry with my mother when she finally turned up. But the anger would evapourate as soon as she produced the glass bottle from Ambika that held 5 minutes of pure pleasure. Flavoured milk. Badham. Pista. Rose. And I would greedily gulp it down – not a thank you or smile in return for her efforts. How rude children can be.
My antipathy towards Maadavidhi came down marginally as the years progressed. I was a regular at Vijaya Books stores as a student. And as a bride-to-be, I loved the silver shops and bangle stalls that dotted the cramped by-lanes. The withered faces of the old women selling fresh flowers. The magnificent Kapaleeshwarar Temple seeming that seemed to expand to accommodate the faithful.
Marriage was followed by Mumbai. And could markets be far behind? My first year in Bandra meant regular visits to the fruit and veg stalls at the base of Mount Mary. I never had a chance to flex my lean linguistic muscles there as all the stall owners spoke English. There was also a fruit seller who would come home every morning and try to sell over priced papaya and ‘import straaabeerries’.
Shifting to town meant goodbye to the sad bruised straaabeeries and hello to the shiny, sticker bearing apples that regally sat outside Premsons. Buying vegetables and fruits here seemed to be all right if we wanted to declare bankruptcy, but as that wasn’t the case I soon began to look for alternatives. And that’s how I found myself back in Maadavidhi. Well, almost.
Matunga. How can one visit Matunga and not fall in love with it? Ram Naiks. The Guruvayoorappan temple. Concerns. Manis. It even has a Giri traders.
Once a week, I would leave behind the cloak of my modern, Bombay lifestyle. Abstain from the alcohol and the swearing. Wear a crisp, starched saree, pick up my green plastic basket and head to this Mecca for displaced Mylapore Maamis. After asking God to forgive me for the sins of the past week and those that I was about to commit in the week to come, I would inexpertly haggle with the vendors and buy strands of fresh malli. I began to enjoy visiting the market. The vendors to whom my face had become familiar. The inexplicable satisfaction that lugging home fresh produce gave me.
So it was with much sadness that I read recently that Tesco would like India to open up it’s markets to the supermarket giant. I know very little of economics and I’m sure that the investment can only do good. But if the impact of supermarket chains on markets and home-grown produce in the UK is anything to go by, I fear for the future of the Mount Marys, Matungas and Maadavidhis that are such a wonderful, colourful and noisy part of India.
I look forward to my next visit to Maadavidhi. It won’t be such a tiresome thing. I am no longer the little girl in the blue uniform waiting impatiently for her mother. I won’t need to count red cars to pass the time. But I will drink the flavoured milk. And I will remember to say thank you this time.