New Market crawls with the noon crowd. The complacent, even happy, sun shines in hues of gold and white through the glass windows of the shops, over the parking lot, lighting up a million dusty roadside stalls selling everything from bags and purses to cheap, glittery jewellery and strings of beads in yellow, red and green; gaudy hair clips and suspicious looking cosmetics that form a riot of colours on the footpath; little curio shops that sell absurdly priced antiques, and beady eyed, paan chewing, semi-precious jewellery sellers who size you up from behind gold framed glasses.
And when you step into the dark labyrinths of the erstwhile Hogg Market, you are greeted by a dark coolness that relieves you of the heat outside, and the overpowering smell of meat emanating from the slaughterhouse within the complex. I’ve always managed to avoid that side of New Market though. And everywhere you can hear loud, frantic, extremely enthusiastic bargaining between wise women who are forever convinced that they are being conned and seasoned shop owners who are always on the lookout for a good con.
Students and couples-in-love, in pairs and groups and hordes can be seen loitering about the parking lot. Sitting, standing, eating phuchka and ice creams and chaats. Being happy in general. The middled aged having a cold drink or two. Tired after several bouts of bargaining and some shopping too, expectedly. “Freshly cut” fruits and jhaal muri. Paapri chaat and bhel puri. Chana batura and juices. Dahi vada and dosas.They might seem diarrhea inducing (and probably are) but you cannot help but give in to monstrous growls in your belly, ignited by the sight and smell of these devious, positively evil food-like things.
Women and men saunter into jewellery stores and carefully pick out engagement rings, and wedding rings and bracelets and necklaces and earrings and jewelled wrist watches. All at a good price. Indian weddings are lavish affairs and we are sentimental about our shopping. And then they drift on to inspect colourful shoes and handbags and cushions and bed sheets; all the while digesting the aforementioned positively evil food-like things. What better than a vigorous bout of shopping to aid in the break down of your lunch/dinner/whatever it is?
I can write endlessly about New Market. As a child I used to find it a magical place. A you’ll-find-everything-there place. And that enchantment has not faded till date. Because it is one place where you’ll find everything. Literally everything. From banana chips to flower vases with plastic flower, cheap imitation jewellery and diamond earrings, heavenly brownies and spicy masala cola, suitcases and sand paper. Everything. And you can spend hours just walking around this place doing absolutely nothing. A window shopper’s paradise. A struggling, forever-broke young girl’s 4th circle of hell. Yep. The one associated with GREED. Anyhow, it’s one of of my favourite places in Calcutta. I especially make it a point to visit Nahoums. Mostly for those wonderfully decadent chocolate fudge brownies, the bread rolls and the jam tarts. And their shortbread. I also make it a point to haunt the different antique jewellery shops. Especially Chamba Lama and more recently, Asian Arts right beside it. Wonderful place for silver jewellery. My go to place for stone nose-pins.
New Market exhausts me, and makes me go through severe, tormenting pangs of guilt for blowing up money on absolutely unnecessary things. But I guess it also releases a gleeful rush of endorphin. It’s all about indulgences and at times it just feels good to blend in with a motley crowd of strangers. Anonymity is comforting even in the chaos.