Among the many memories I have of Baba, one of the most enduring is of him going to the local market or ‘baajaar’ (market) at 7 o’clock sharp every morning. The market was full of small-time vendors or ‘phodes’ as they are called. They travelled by the local trains at dawn to sell their produce in the markets of Kolkata. The abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits was amazing. Of course, Baba had his favourites – an old lady who specialized in ‘gorbo mocha’ (banana blossoms) and ‘thor’ (banana stems); Ganesh, who would bring in the freshest greens from his farm – from the delicious ‘kolmi shaak’, the exotic ‘kochu shaak’ to the regular ‘palong shaak’. Baba’s ‘baajaarer tholey’ (shopping bag) would be overflowing with leafy greens when he returned, not to mention the smile of satisfaction on his face. He always prided himself on getting the best produce in the market!
I have undoubtedly inherited my love for ‘all things food’ from him. As a child, I remember being mesmerised by the hustle and bustle in the market. Even today, I can’t drive past a vegetable vendor without looking lovingly at the vibrant colours of the produce. But more striking was the personal bond that the buyers and sellers shared. Each one knew the other’s family members and never forgot to ask after them. Special occasions in the family meant that the freshest produce would be reserved for you!
We have indeed come a long way from those days of the local markets. With technology, life has changed in most of the metros. We have moved away from regional and seasonal food. Today we shop for vegetables online and in supermarkets. The personal bond has all but disappeared, especially in big cities.
But life is indeed unpredictable! With the lockdown, there was a big shift in our lifestyle. We were forced to go back to the local shops and vendors. It is these small-time sellers who supported us at a time when the bigger platforms couldn’t. But they have been the hardest hit themselves. With lack of public transport, they have no means of reaching the city markets. Business is dwindling every day, robbing them of their livelihood.
It is now our turn to support them. Many conscious individuals and organisations are supplying organic produce directly from the farmers to our doorstep. The Farm-to-table concept is the way the world is going too. Buy from such a platform and help the farmer.
Look at your friendly neighbourhood hawker who sells vegetables on his ‘thela’, or the young woman who sits with fruits by the roadside in the sweltering hot sun. Buy something from them today. Help them to carry on with life and fight the economic pandemic.
They are trying too – from contactless payment, to wearing masks, to sanitizing.
Meet them halfway!
On World Food Day, let’s give back to the hands that feed us every day.