I Love Gurgaon: Lost and found in the bylanes of tradition
Gurgaon’s Sadar Bazar market typifies the disorderly and chaotic nature of the city, yet it is more inviting than mallsI Love Gurgaon Updated: Jun 02, 2017 01:01 IST
This is the city I was born in; whose by-lanes I grew up in; and where I continue to live a semi-retired life.
Like a sibling, I share an organic connection with the city. There is so much I love about the city, just as there is so much I hate about it.
The city I am referring to is Gurgaon — not the Millennium City, but the dusty, chaotic, disorderly and yet organic part of the city. That part of the city now given the label of Old Gurgaon.
The main bazaar of the city is called Sadar Bazar, possibly referring to the origins of Gurgaon as a cantonment. The bazaar is about three quarters of a kilometre long and is usually so crowded that one cannot even walk. Instead, one is pushed along.
There are several lanes running parallel and perpendicular to the main street which are even more interesting. Walking through the main road and its offshoots is an educational experience — in commerce, anthropology and indeed, in history.
Geography first. The bazaar runs essentially in an east-west direction. At the eastern end of the bazaar is the old telephone exchange, a decrepit single-storey building where I remember seeing an old-style manual exchange in the late 1960s. At the western end is a less-than- imposing Jama Masjid.
The town used to start at the eastern end of the bazaar where, even now, a caravanserai, Kamal Sarai, exists.
To the south of the bazaar were the civil lines. The mandatory park in civil lines, called Company Bagh till recently (though the name had officially changed to Kamla Nehru Park even in my childhood), is in a low-lying area between the bazaar and the civil lines.
To the north is a locality founded by a deputy commissioner, Mr Jacob, in 1861 and still called Jacobpura.
The architecture of the bazaar was fairly standard — shops on the ground floor with habitation above. The shops once sold everything — from hookah tobacco, Bata shoes to traditional sweets such as ghewar. However, since this was the market town for the agricultural hinterland, most of the shops sold agricultural produce and cattle feed.
Market forces changed all that. Given the enormous increase in real estate prices, majority of the shops are now jewellery and sari showrooms. What is more, the top floors have also been converted into shops.
A few old shops persist — like the famous Prabhati Pansari, whose stock of traditional herbs would put babas come-lately to shame. The shopkeepers have also found an ingenious way of making money — they “rent” out the road in front of their shop to hawkers selling imitation Levi’s and Ray-Bans. Some have even let out parts of their shops to that ubiquitous small-town institution, China Bazar, where everything costs ₹50!
The more interesting parts of the bazaar are its offshoots. The wholesale cereal market has shifted to Naya Bazar, a road parallel to the main road. And then there are the small gallis, each with shops selling a particular commodity.
Churiwali galli sells only bangles, while buttonwali galli has rows of shops selling buttons of all shapes and sizes; there is a row of shops selling cosmetics and materials for beauty parlours and there is even a lane where all the shops specialise in making rubber stamps. And if it is cleaning materials you desire, there is the jhaduwali galli too.
The experience of walking and shopping in the bazaar is an interesting one. The diversity of customers is fascinating — from villagers shopping for hookah tobacco to Afghan medical tourists buying clothes.
Incidentally, the bargaining skills of Afghan tourists would give even the Marwaris a run for their money. And the shops are not just locations of commerce, one also gets the latest town gossip there.
Not for me the homogeneity and predictability of air-conditioned malls where the architecture, décor, the shops and indeed even the customers, would not be out of place in a suburban strip mall in America.
I would rather have the cacophony, the chaos, the heat and dust of Sadar Bazar.
It is more organic and natural than the artificial antiseptic ambience of a mall. That’s why I love it.
(Shobhit Mahajan is a Professor of Physics and Astrophysics in University of Delhi. A PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, he is the author of more than a dozen books on science and technology, as well as two text books in physics.)