I have been a regular visitor to Kolkata (Calcutta) for more than ten years now. It is a dynamic city, a blend traditions of the past with modernity. Each year I can’t wait to step out of the calm of the flat and head towards Lake Market, a ten minute walk away. This is not a western tourist destination, so I am quite conspicuous.
I suspect many people are as curious and interested in me as I am in them. I walk around with my camera out as I have learned that the camera is a great invitation to engage. “Take my photo!” or more often “Take his photo!”.
Lake Market is a wondrous feast for the eyes. Stall owners specialise: the potato seller, the pottery seller, the vegetables, the fish, the plastic goods, personal care, the tea, the spices, the incense and the flower sellers. Oh the flower sellers! It is a yearly joy to see them – and the marigolds, tuber roses, garlands and displays.
Generally the stalls are tiny, some are inside the new complex which replaced a very old one. At the time we were horrified that this old market would be pulled down but somehow they have managed to recreate exactly the same vibe, with a four or five-story building on top. I wander around aisles and aisles of stores, loving the careful arrangements and colours. Many stall owners sit crossed-legged on a timber platform surrounded by all their wares, they use hand-scales and weights. Other stall owners sell in the nearby streets from stalls and carts, others sit on the side of the road.
It is so not the big supermarkets that have homogenised the shopping experience at home.
Once the clicking starts, I have one trader after another asking for a photo. I love the exchanges – and the chance to stop a while longer at their stall.