Hotels in India » Heritage of India » Delhi – A Tale of More Than Two Bazaars

Delhi – A Tale of More Than Two Bazaars

One of the most vibrant and interesting areas of Delhi is the Jama Masjid and its environs with its many bazaars. Urdu Bazaar specializes in rare books, old manuscripts and journals. There are shops that stock Catherine wheels and enormous rockets which when fired burst into clouds of twinkling stars. Also on sale are colourful caps, pictures of sacred places, sizzling kababs, savoury pulaos, stuffed parathas served with yoghurt, halwa and delectable sweets.

You can see piles of rose petals and smell their fragrance. The air is scented with fresh bread, cauldrons of thickening sweet milk, spices, curies, incense and tobacco. Tame pigeons flutter down from a minaret to perch on the unwary.

Visitors are greeted with cries of the shopkeepers, coolies (porters) and rickshawallas, clatters and whirres of furious industry. Near the steps of the Jama Masjid, you find old fashioned heavy flat-irons put up for sale. Each has a number indicating its weight. Then there are shops that deal in car parts with a complete range form smallest ball bearing to an engine. Much of it is piled up outside for customers’ inspection. For bibliophiles, the attractions are books on Indology and special hand-made paper.

All these newer bazaars have taken the place of the Gudri Bazaar. This bazaar at Shahjahanbad extended to the entire open space between Khas and Khanam Ka Bazaar, not far form Delhi Gate. This particular area was known as Chowk Saadullah Khan after Shah Jahan’s Prime Minister. The Chowk, as described by Nawab Salar Jung during Muhammad Shah’ reign, hummed with activity. Astrologers made pleasing prophecies, preachers waxed eloquent on a number of themes and quacks advertised their tonics and remedies. There were wine-sellers; vendors selling dry fruits, exotic birds and animals. The cages for these creatures exhibited a high standard of workmanship, artistic design and fetched exhorbitant prices.

A few years after the conquest of Delhi in 1857, the British demolished and cleared the Khas and Khanam Ka Bazaar and open areas around including the Chowk Saadullah Khan. The army authorities took over and Delhi became an army camp.

After clearance an open market grew up around Jama Masjid and on its steps. Sellers of pet animals gave way to dealers in well trained birds like pigeons, mynahs, parrots, and partridges. There were customers who would come everyday to buy them. The seller were in great demand. Among them was the famous Masita, making and selling hot kababs skewered on his iron rod. A renowned story teller would sit on the steps of Jama Masjid surrounded by fascinated listeners.

Salesmanship developed into a fine art, mixed with good-humoured banter. The man selling a trained pigeon to a customer would claim: “This bird is so well trained that it will never leave your house. It will fly high every day. Just keep a large vessel of water in your courtyard and you will never lose sight of its reflection in the water.” Sellers of kababs also resorted to hyperbolic cries to hawk their wares. Before selling his miracle cures, the hakim would spend time raving against quacks.

Shopkeepers at the Gudri Bazaars were temperamental. If they did not approve of your attire, mannerism or speech, nothing was sold and you would be the loser. Id was a specially busy day when the rich and poor congregated at the mosque for prayers. Flowers in large baskets added colour to the summer’s day. Water carriers with leather skins on their backs and two cups in their hands, hummed a tune, offering you the sweetest water from a newly constructed well.

The karkhandars (artisans) also called the chawani walas, were constantly in high spirits. They loved the theatre, acting and music and were patrons of bioscope and circus.

Fourteen years ago, before the dilapidated shacks in the open market were demolished, buyers could spend many hours shopping. If you needed vital spare parts for a vintage car, woolen coats in fashion over two decades ago, quilts, furniture, old handwritten manuscripts or even rare books, Gudri Bazaar was just the place where you could strike a good bargain.

 Email this page