A treasure trove to jazz up your home at modest rates
Horizontally spread and somewhat labyrinthic, the Banjara Market comprises over 50 shops running out of makeshift tents and the broken pavement.Updated: Jun 16, 2019, 00:25 IST
The moment you drive a little ahead of the Butterfly Park and enter Sector 56, you land up in front of a roadside market selling an array of chic, colourful and whimsical furniture and home décor items. It is, in fact, quite hard for passersby to miss the kilometre-long Banjara Market.
Horizontally spread and somewhat labyrinthic, the market comprises over 50 shops running out of makeshift tents and the broken pavement. Over the last three-four years, the 20-year-old market has become extremely popular among residents looking to decorate their houses in an inexpensive and exquisite manner — all thanks to the rigorous chronicling by video bloggers.
While on the one hand, the market is a smorgasbord of all things needed for interior decorations, on the other, the people who live here and run the market, have their own stories as well. Standing on the Haryana Shehri Vikas Pradhikaran (HSVP) land, it is home to more than 70 Gadiya Lohars — a nomadic community hailing from Rajasthan. The second or third generation Lohars, whose anscestors left Rajasthan’s Chittorgarh 15-20 years back, migrated to the Millennium City in search of greener pastures. The move, they say, was the fallout of the dwindling demand for ironwork in Chittor after other communities acquired the skill set.
While most shopkeepers in the area reiterate this story, studies have indicated that the Gadiya Lohars started migrating as early as the invasion of the Mughals and have since led a nomadic life.
Ask any shopkeeper in the market about themselves and most will begin: “Hum Maharana Pratap ke vansh se hain (We belong to the royal lineage of Maharana Pratap).” They take pride in claiming themselves to be the descendants of the revered Rajput warrior king and their native land Chittorgarh — quite ironic, given most living here haven’t ever been there.
Women wearing vibrant leheriya, bandhni and paisley motifs and men in cotton paithani kurtas and dhotis start setting up the stalls at 7am in the morning. While the market is officially open till 10pm, Armaan Rajput, a shopkeeper, said, “Actually, this is a 24x7 market. We live here; so come whenever you feel like.”
Here, trade is robust and bargaining is a language well understood. Every once in a while — at an interval of every one or two months — the men of the community travel to places such as Jodhpur, Moradabad, Neemrana, Sarangpur, Ahmedabad and Barmer to fetch the goods. In rare occasions, when the sales figures aren’t as high, the gap becomes a little lengthier.
While the men are mostly given the charge of bringing the goods, the women are the ones who understand the pulse of the customers and are sharp sellers. They are, as customers say, are adept at quickly figuring out aesthic tastes and assembling items that grab attention.
Arti Urmani is one such shopkeeper. Amid of voices speaking only of Pratap’s lineage, Urmani, who lives in the market with her husband and children, declares she is from the land of ‘Padmavati’. “On an average, all items are 50 per cent lesser than in showrooms. Still, people living in bungalows bargain so much with us.”
From chic wooden sushi plates, carved iron wall hangings, tripod stand lights, vintage clocks, chests and trunks (tijoris and sandooks) studded with beautiful stones, Victorian-era candelabras, intricate iron bird cage lamps, glass décor items and a multitude of ceramic and china clay crockery, planters, elegantly framed wall mirrors of various sizes, and a sea of photo frames in various materials, sizes and colours — the market offers everything one needs to do up a house at affordable prices.
A large number of shops also offer delectable wooden furniture, from French corner tables to sprawling beds, bar stools and wine cabinets that bear a distinct colonial touch.
But one needs to have a discerning eye while shopping here. Some of the furniture here are old and refurbished and décor items picked up and stacked indiscriminately so a few may bear defects or cracks in them.
Most customers who are regulars here are aware of this and don’t find it to be a deterrent. Harsh Singh and Amrita Deb — a couple who had come to the market to buy items to set up their house in Greater Noida, said, “There is no market like this in Noida or Delhi. While there are many interesting furniture markets there, none of them offer such a wide and pleasing variety of décor items at such prices. Moreover, most times, if you find a defect in a piece, they have another of the same kind.”
Like Singh and Deb, the market is not just a spot for the city residents but also popular among a lot of residents of Delhi and Noida, primarily owing to the extensive coverage by social media bloggers. While the shopkeepers admit that social media might have led to increase in footfall in the market, many of them are quick to point out that it has also done them a disservice as the rates quoted in social media are unrealistic and extremely low.
They said a myth is being created that one can just get everything at throwaway prices. Dhanno Lohar, a shopkeeper, said, “On social media, the rates are made up to be very low. Tell me how can we give away an item worth R4,000 for R1,000?
Pinky Rajput, a shopowner who has been selling items since the inception of the market, echoed the sentiment: “We live on the streets to sell the items, but we need to sustain our families as well.”
The entire families -- from children to parents -- take turns to look after the shops. In hot summer afternoons, it is not an uncommon sight to see the mother or the fathers resting on a chowpai (a cot) under a tree and their children looking after their shops. Priyanka is one such 11-year-old afternoon vigilante who sings Bollywood songs and deftly bargains with the occasional sunglass-wearing customer on the rates and options. She said she doesn’t go to school because her family doesn’t have enough money: “School jaane ke liye paise lagte hain. Khana banate hain, dukan sambhalte hain – bas (It takes a lot of money to go to school. I cook, take care of the shop).”
Her confidence and nonchalance is beyond her age and endearing just like most other children in the area. Ten-year-old Neeti bears the same confidence, but goes to the nearby municipality school, tutors the boys and girls of the market and is quick to recite a poem in Hindi for anyone willing to listen. But both Priyanka and Neeti are well-versed when it comes to the trade and know exactly where their commodities are coming from. They deal with all kinds of customers from all sections of the society.
Over the last couple of years, the market has become a shopping haunt for bureaucrats, expats, young couples setting up new homes, aesthetes, tourists or just enthusiastic shoppers looking for unique and beautiful décor pieces at good prices. While its popularity may be soaring, the authorities had made the Lohars shut the market five months ago to broaden the road. But it’s not a new phenomenon.
The market dwellers have accepted this reality, and said this happens many times, as the land does not belong to them. The market thus periodically gets removed or pushed back and the shopkeepers set up shop all over again.
Tanya Das, a city resident and frequent visitor to the market, said, “The market remained shut for two days around last December. I really liked this place and thought the market was gone. I was elated to see it up and running again.”
But unlike the market loyalists, HSVP is troubled with this market coming up on their land. HSVP administrator Chandra Shekhar Khare said, “The market has come up on encroached land. This land is allotted for other purpose which is why there are regular drives to push it back. The market is very popular, but its future is uncertain.”
For the inhabitants obviously, this is a source of great anguish. One of the first shopkeepers in the market, Udham Singh, said, “Aaj yahan, kal chappan, parso Sohna, hum toh kahi bhi ho sakte hain. Humara kya pehchaan.” He lamented that there are lakhs of them in the country, but they have no identity and no place to call home. That is where the market gets its name from too.
While a degree of uncertainty and despair hide in the folds of this dynamic market, what’s undeniable is its overarching charm that draws enthusiastic shoppers and visitors from different parts of the country.
Mumbai resident and first-time visitor, Taruna Khuranna, said, “My parents live in Delhi. I had told them that I have to go to this market. I had seen it online and seen things here that I had not anywhere else.”
For another visitor, Vineeta Kushala, the appeal of the market lies in its quaint, chic objects. She said, “These little knick knacks that just lift up the aesthics of a home; and you don’t find such things anywhere else. Had it not been so hot, I would have spent the entire day here.”
There were many who braved the afternoon summer sun with umbrellas in hand and oversized shades to get a good deal, but it is the weekends when the market sees maximum footfall. Musaddi Lohar, a shopowner, said, “It’s like a carnival here on weekends.”
The market is a treasure trove of all things vintage and antique. But what stands out is the distinct curation of goods by the shop owners and their vivid understanding of interior décor and furniture without any formal training. Ask them how they know what goods will sell in the market and how they identify it, pat comes the reply: “Our heart knows what people want.”
Laced with hope, disillusionment, vibrancy and despair in equal measures, the market and the lives of these nomads are filled with quirky anecdotes and stories. The market itself continues to intrigue and lure customers from far and beyond, cement its reputation as a décor haven, even as the certainty of its existence stays shrouded in ambiguity.