On Day 2 in Pondy, I biked through the busy streets of Grand Bazaar early in the morning. The closed Goubert Market in its centre is a maze full of several flavours and colours and textures and noises. The place surely lives up to the name and the ride surprised me with sites I had intended to uncover during the trip. Asking around didn't help on the first day, biking around definitely did! I rode by what I believe is the oldest and prettiest church in Pondicherry. While I could never go back to see it from inside, but perhaps that I'll leave for next time!
The first smells to hit me at the Grand Bazaar in Pondy were the masalas. Mint, coriander, lemons, garlic, ginger... Strong, yet not sneeze-inducing. Gunny bags full of veggies, some I didn't recognise, were being hauled down from the trucks. And since the market hadn't settled yet, there was none of the buying crowd there. Just vendors getting ready for the day.
Going to the Amrakunj or Khanderao or Mangal Bazaar in Baroda was a pain, unlike at the Grand Bazaar. Not only because it was dirty and usually the cows from the nearby village treated it like their go-to hangout, but also perhaps because I did not appreciate the bustle and aromas of a fresh produce gathering. The colours, the flavours, the noises and the sense that vendors and visitors made out of the chaos. As if the neighbourhood market wasn't bad enough, there is a big wholesale market and the other old city retail market. That place was sheer cacophony. Impossible to get in, and beyond comprehension to navigate!
It was the small but extremely well-organised veggies aisle at King's Cirle in Bombay that made me sort of in love with the concept of going to buy fruits and veggies myself. It took little goading, and the friends I made was an unparalleled perk. Of course, the metro also gets some of the best produce in the country, so that was an added attraction. But when I first stepped into Crawford Market, it was as if my perception of a foods market did a complete turnaround, and for good. Everything - I mean EVERYTHING one could ever conceive edible is available there - red meat, poultry, sea food, greens, spices, chocolate of various intensities of darkness, pickles and preserves, jams and jellies, preservatives and food grade chemicals - it was any chef's haven - almost like a mini replica of the Grand Bazaar!
In Hyderabad, I discovered supermarket grocery shopping like the Jubilee Hills and Banjara Hills residents do it. Among the first SPAR stores in the country, this one at Begumpet was a joy to shop at. Not only was it clean and well laid out, there were also none of the intrusive and superfluous staff that gets in your way arranging stuff at peak shopping times and helps in no way when you ask (no wonder people in India can only barely tolerate Big Bazaar/ Food Bazaar and most of the rest are closing down). It was such a truly holistic shopping experience - also the first time I bought alcohol at the grocers. Hypercity there was next in line - far bigger and spacious, though I thought they'd nailed the marketing ethos of making people want to buy more than they needed rather than ticking off their weekly/monthly grocery list.
Pune was a gala surprise at Aundh's fresh produce market, and winters are just the time to enjoy it. The colours and aromas of fresh raw fruit and veggies and herbs and spices is beyond anything that relaxes at the end of a long day at work. To carry as much as you can handle in a trip is like a bull in a china shop. You want it all. You nail it all. And it;s a nice straight walk up one side of the road, so there are no distractions and the vendors are all a friendly, generous lot. Going to the now closer-home Food Bazaar is a slightly detached experience. There are none of the smiles, the banter, the letting go of a buck or two, and the constant feeling that you're being cheated. So I continue to buy at least the veggies and the odd south Indian rice batter from right outside - funnily I never spotted this batter at the Grand Bazaar in Pondy - perhaps because it's too much of a staple.
When I think back about the Goubert Market at Grand Bazaar, the idea to get up and get out early that morning was the best decision ever! Not only was the market fresh, but it was also the only time of day in Pondicherry when the heat wasn't singing and bicycling was sheer delight. I still remember my last long ride across Anand's Agricultural University campus with Sajani. In juxtaposition, while the ride across the campus was all about exploring space Grand Bazaar was about the convenience of occupying minimum space on the road and getting the most in. I could never thank Rao enough about goading me onto one. I had little confidence in my foot-eye coordination - but I discovered that day that it is indeed true - you never forget swimming and you never forget how to bicycle!
The advantage one has with the traffic when one is on a bicycle is brilliant - you don't have to wait for the red lights to turn green, you can ride in the opposite direction, take U-turns where none are allowed, and so much more! Bicycling is the best way to break rules and be proud about your sins. You discover so much on the way!