Bazaars of my Ghaziabad, those claustrobhobic dark dirty crowded noisy market streets shared by pedestrians, stray dogs, rickshaw pullers, man driven carts, cows, and Honda citys. Those antique colorless ready to fall buildings, and complex network of narrow cemented streets where to enter without knowing your way takes either lunacy or insane amount of courage, both of which you develop enough of growing up in Ghaziabad.
Streets and bazaars of my childhood sneak upto me some evenings when I'm sitting alone in my apartment balcony with closed eyes and black tea. And they start to sing me lullabys.
Turab nagar, that dingy old market. With its herd of chaat wallahs, the henna design artists, stiching shops, kite sellers, halwais, and wool sellers. The smell of fresh crushed henna comes floating in the air and gets mixed with colors and smell of countless sweets. Some young kid zip passes by sometimes on his bicycle balanced using just one hand, the other holding the kites he just thoroughly inspected and bought, from some shop you can hear coming the complaining voice of a lovely young girl asking the cloth sticher to be more careful with her sizes this time, how last time he had made the dress too tight.
A big wool store at the far end of the street is owned by two brothers. They know their business well and have wool of any color or quality you might want. And if you buy enough, they'll order chai and samosas from the sweet shop next door for you.
Chaupala has a Hanuman mandir at its center, and four gates. Its a city in itself. Its the original Ghaziabad, this is where it started, these are the roots.
The cemented paths of Chaupala have been walked upon since forever, and it shows. The stones, the cement, it shines. Sometimes it looks greasy, sometimes wet, but its just polished ground.
Built when there were no modern vehicles (not even bicycles) around and when the city was small enough to cover it entire length on foot in 20 minutes, there were no parkings conceived, the roads were built wide enough for pedestrians, but not for bicycles, rickshaws, scooters, bullock carts even. The cars are not allowed on the main streets of the market, and the car owners should be thankful for this.
Chaupala stands, with its own temple, police station, bookshops, clock tower, Ramlila ground, and shops for practically anything - electronics, wedding supplies, grocery, all variety of masalas, medicine, stationary, sweets, dry fruits, undergarments, thisandthat, whatnot.
| Ramlila |:::::| <--- Ghantaghar (The Clock Tower)
| Ground |:::::|
+---|| | |
| * | M |
+---|| | |
| | <--- Book shops
Electronics--> | |
Market |T| <--- The Hanuman temple
Jawahar ---------+ +----C---- Delhi
Gate ----D----+ +--------- Gate
| | <--- The police station
*: Girls college
D: Dry fruit market
W: Wedding supply shops
M: Masala market
C: Cloth market
S: Sweet shops
When you enter it from Dasna gate, you see a police station
on your right, the old lemon-yellow brick-red low-ceiling police station, the colors may remind you of old Ghaziabad railway station
but marked police Jeep
s outside and a herd of officers inside assure you that this is indeed a police station.
A little walk away you come to the main intersection of the market, on the left is the dry fruit market where they roast the peanuts for you while you wait, where they pop the popcorns for you on order - and no microwave business yaar, no none of that, these are roasted in hot salt. Can you smell it yet? the popcorns roasting in hot grey salt?
And they have pecans and almonds that come all the way from Afghanistan and scores of other dry fruits you have maybe never even seen before. Dried coconuts, apples, mangoes, bananas, apricots.
On the right of the intersection is the dress market, where you get everything from undergarments to Coimbatore saris to tuxedos to Italian shoes to handmade Jaipur sandals ... from clothes you thought were obsoleted in 18th century to clothes you thought they wear only on space stations. From ones made-to-order to the readymade ones. From ones made in the basement of the shop by expert hands to ones bulk-made in factories of Bombay or Gujarat or London even, Hong kong.
If you decide to go straight, however, you'll see a score of sweet shops encircling the old Hanuman Temple. The only piece of old authentic architecture maintained in perfect condition. That's a distinction Gods enjoy in India, should be obvious for a country with on an average one God per three human beings (when the original idea I suppose was to have three Gods for everyone).
The temple has its own working well, an army of caretakers in the small compound of the temple, another army of alm seekers outside it. Tuesdays are meant for worshipping Hanuman and are busiest in this part of market, not one soul passes the temple without offering the prayers and sweets and the temple bell keeps tolling almost constantly as one devotee after another puts an exclamation to his/her prayers.
Once you cross this part of market, you'll see several shops with religious ceremony supplies on your left. These shops have everything you need for any kind of pooja at home, from Ramayana recital to Satyanarayana worship, from ceremonies for first hair cut of a child to death rites, these shops have it all packed and labelled, hawan samagri, camphor, incense sticks, mango tree bark, ghee, beetlenut, paan leaves, kumkum, red and yellow sacred cotton threads - they have it all, you name it.
To show the market's sense of irony perhaps this is followed by the eletronics market, calculators, washing machines, refrigerators, microwave, flat panel TVs, DVD systems, watches, stereos, cameras, the toys, the toys.
You pass a small stretch of bookshops after this, some dedicated only to academic books, some dedicated to to non-academics - comics, magazines, novels, newspapers. 'Rama Book Depot' is the oldest I think, its the most trusted for sure. All the new school books we bought for my brother came from here. All the stationary too. They have another shop deep in the puzzling web of streets where they make their own notebooks, and bind the books you want binded. They have complete solution to a students need. The art supplies, the scientific measuring instruments. Rama Book Depot is always crowded.
Right about here is the oldest and most popular sweet shop in whole of Ghaziabad, the 'Banwarilal sweet shop'. It doesn't look like much from the outside, hygiene was never a top priority here you can tell, but you should see these shops near Diwali, you've never seen so many people crazy for sweets before in your life. You'd think they're giving it away for free. One must stop here for a glass of lassi if one has enough time, and ask for extra cream on top. It's the best around.
A narrow left turn takes you down to the street where all the masala shops are, and the tiny dimly lit wedding ceremony supply shops. You don't even know it takes so many random things for a wedding as these guys have to offer. If you have a Hindu wedding at home, you'll be meeting these guys a lot. The first time you visit them for something, they'll tell you'll also need soandso and might as well buy it now itself, you'll refuse being too smart for such age old marketing skills; but soon, within hours, you'll be sent back by your pundit to get exactly the same soandso thing from them. This will go on a few times, till you finally learn to trust these guys and stop waiting to be sent to get things one by one, things you didn't even know exist - the feather appendage to the grooms headgear, powders of different colors, thisandthat, thatandthis.
The masala shops are not for the weak of breath to visit, the air here is filled with the spiciest of smells, most irritating of masala particles in the air, it sticks to your skin, starts to fill your eyes and even ears if you stay too long. The accepted practice is to hand the shopowner a list of what you want and wait outside while he weighs and packs the masalas, fresh out of grinders for you. Trust him on the quality and weight, the shops here are prestigious ones, passed down from generation to generations, the customers have crossed the generations too, most families have a favorite shop, and month after month, year after year, they stick to these shops with loyality paralleled only by the one a tree has for the ground it roots in.
Not many young people come to shop or enjoy in this bazaar, there are no jeans shops or teenager hangouts. This bazaar is not for leisure, its for serious business. The shopowners change from generation to generation, and the customers, the quality of masalas too have changed since old times if my grandparents, and now parents, are to be believed, but the names of shops, these walls, these streets, these protocols, the greetings, the dust, the heat, the bazaars have not, it still holds the same name, same old soul. The main bazaar of my Ghaziabad is old and weak, but is still beautiful. It invites me from time to time to come sit by him, share a cup of tea in cracked little glass cup and listen to the stories of days of its youth, days of its glory.
Then there's Ghantaghar with the most famous contemporary sweet shop in Ghaziabad, 'Madhurima' and with as much chaos as you can handle, this is where the auto rickshaws and buses and rickshaws drop off and take pessengers. This is where the sky is marked with a random web of electric cables runing wild, and this is where the flower shops are, and kulfi stands are. Oh that kulfi, with scent of 'kesar' and taste that's far superior than the best ice creams in the world.
Across the G.T Road from Ghantaghar is Bajaria, the market with wide streets but few shops, the framing shops, the liquor shops, the sports goods, the audio shops. And there are old havelis, and the train station is just a couple of blocks away, so you can hear the trains whistle and pass by every other minute. There are dark sidestreet alleys with huge arched gates which lead to the fish market. The kind where they let you choose the fish you want then kill, cut and clean it right before you to keep it fresh.
And there is Ramte Ram Road with wood and steel works and the animal hospital, and a large walled compound enclosing the construction supply market.
Its a different dimension, its a different planet even, sort of a dreamworld, only too real. I know I can keep driving around but never find the streets of my childhood, the streets that bear my footprints. Somedays I am not even sure if they were real or if I just dreamt them up.