Wednesday 9 December 2015

Pune's Oldest 'Olx' and 'Quikr', long before the Internet: Juna Bazaar.

Scorpion shaped wall-pegs, damsel shaped bottle opener and betel nut crackers.
It’s been over 4 years since we came to Pune, and although I had visited the Juna Bazaar twice earlier to pick up scrap for RecyclingI decided to visit again, but this time, with a traveler’s perspective. And I’m glad I did, because I could appreciate and observe the bazaar more than before.
A box with compartments for betel leaves and nuts. 
The Juna Bazaar is a market for old and second hand goods, as the word ‘juna’ which means ‘old’ in Hindi, suggests. It’s a make shift market, stretching over half a kilometer, that is set up on every Sunday and Wednesday from 9 am to 6 pm on Veer Tanaji Ghorpade road in Kasba Peth. 
I am usually petrified of crowds but I braved this one. 
If you are visiting this market be prepared to wade through the crowd and narrow spaces. I entered the market and was casually strolling and stopping by at stalls to take pictures and occasionally chat up with the sellers. I stopped at one antique seller’s stall and casually enquired from where he sources these antique items. Instead of answering my question, he asked me where I am from. I told him I’m from Pune but I’m visiting the market for the first time. (Yes, I know I lied!!). He laughed and said that he guessed that because the locals never ask that question. He invited me to sit on the footrest of the scooter that was parked next to him and I took a short leap over his precious collection and sat down. He proceeded to show me various items from his stall. 

Nizam Bhai and the scooter next to him where I sat. 
Some of the coins he showed me dated back to Shivaji Maharaj and Aurangazeb’s time, which is almost over 300 yrs old. He said he sources things from various places. The coins are usually from villages and farms and fields, because in the earlier days before the banking system, people kept their money safe by burying it in the fields, in pots. Some people also part with their own collection. A lot of interesting brassware was sold by people who could no longer keep up with the demands of this high maintenance metal.
Old coins in the denominations of one paisa and pice. 

Coins from Shivaji Maharaj's time. Note the words 'Chhatrapati' and 'Raja' in Hindi on the coins. 

Coin collection.
Silver coins from Aurangazeb's time, made in Surat. 
The coins at his stall as well as in other stalls was priced between Rs 50 to Rs 300 depending on its antiquity.
Anklets for humans and animals like cows and elephants. 

Door knockers. 
I asked him how old this market was. He said the market has been thriving since the reign of the Peshwas, since over 300 years. He said he is in his 60’s now and remembers tagging along, as a young child with his grandmother, who herself had been selling antique items at the bazaar for a very long time. My guess is that when the city started expanding, the oldest original market of Pune, which was outside Shaniwarwada, diversified around 150 yrs ago, into the vegetable market at Mandai and the Juna bazaar for second-hand items.
This bowl shaped item is used for massaging the legs. 
If you visit the Juna bazaar, do visit this friendly seller, Nizam Bhai, who offered me tea and also showed me a few clippings of newspapers and magazines in which he had been mentioned. I thanked him for the information and his hospitality and proceeded to explore the other stalls.
A 1920 model of a Marine telescope. 

A seaman's box containing a compass, magnifying glass and telescope. 
The antiques range from interesting brass home d├ęcor items like vases and lanterns, door knockers shaped like lions and elephant heads, scorpion shaped wall-pegs, to kitchen items like tortoise shaped vegetable graters and artistically designed betel nut crackers and boxes to miscellaneous items like a 1920 model of a Marine telescope, a brass coal iron and a receptacle shaped like a cow for offering holy water. Prices ranged from Rs 250 to Rs 3000 depending on the item.
A vegetable grater shaped like a tortoise. 

A tiny brass coal iron box. 

Horns and sand clocks. 
I chatted up with another seller and he told me that not all items that are labelled as ‘antique’ are actually antique. There are factories, mostly based in Delhi, which manufacture copies of the original antique pieces.
A tiny antique gramophone. 

A genie's lamp. Yes, I did make a fervent wish! 

A cow shaped vessel for holy water. 

It says telescope made for the Royal Navy. 

A beautiful fish shaped lock with equally beautiful keys. 
Apart from antiques, you also find other second hand household goods like refrigerators, blenders, pots and pans and stoves, and electronic appliances like computer parts and television screens, phones and also car batteries and type writers! There are also various second hand tools like spanners, axes, shovels, chains and pulleys for construction work. 
Half used bottles and tubes of paint. 

Old phones. 

Old refrigerators. 

Pans, stoves, and cookers. 

Steel utensils. 
Although it is Juna bazaar, you also have some stalls selling new items like suitcases, bags, goggles and eyewear, shoes and apparel.
Hardware equipment like pliers, spanners, screwdrivers. 


Jeans priced at Rs 80! Really cheap. 

Car batteries. 

Reflection on the eyewear. 

The shoes section. 
If you are tired after walking around, there are stalls that sell vada pav, cucumbers and lemonade.
Vada pav stall. 

Cucumbers to beat the heat. 
Things to keep in mind if you plan to visit Juna bazaar:
·         The market is open only on Sundays and Wednesdays between 9 am to 6 pm.
·         Be prepared to walk around a lot.
·         Carry water to keep yourself hydrated. I did not see any shops selling bottled water.
·         I usually don’t bargain, although others would recommend it. Use your discretion.
·         Go through the antique section carefully. There are many interesting items and unless you look closer, you wouldn’t know what it is.
·         Enjoy the experience.
Typewriters. are there people who use them? 

Foot rest for polishing your shoes, seen commonly at Mumbai railway stations. 

Horse shoes. 

Coal operated stoves. 

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Kolam Wall Art- Vertical Rangoli.

I grew up watching my late grandmother dexterously decorate the space outside the main entrance of the house, each morning, with 'kolam', the South-Indian term for rangoli. In Palakkad Iyer homes, as well as in some other South-Indian communities, kolams are drawn with rice flour, either dry or wet, and 'kaavi', which is a soft red brick with lends the bright red-oxide colour. Hence kolams are usually white and red. The designs are mostly geometric designs, ranging from simple to complex, doubling up as mandalas, to converge positive energies in homes and keep out dense energies. One variation is the dot kolam where dots are drawn first and then they are either connected or looped across. It symbolizes the interconnection between everything in the Universe. For auspicious occasions like weddings and festivals, kolams run into several feet in length and width, drawn by skilled women, to whom it is second nature. I had to practise this many times in my note book to get the dots and loops right. I wish I had taken an interest when my grandma used to urge me to draw and learn the kolam designs from her. When, at a community centre I was asked to do a wall-art next to the gate, I thought of a vertical kolam/ rangoli on the wall, which blends perfectly with the stone idols of the Gods, reminiscent of temples in South India. That, with the bamboo trees around, to make the setting perfect. :-) I dedicate this wall-art to my dearest Grandma.

Saturday 28 November 2015

Note on the Pottery of Kutch.

Thalis and pans with intricate designs at Khamir.
After visiting the Dastkari Haat in Pune, where artisans from all over the country come to sell their wares, it occurred to me to put together this short note on the art of Pottery in Kutch. My visit to Khamir, in Kutch, had fortunately coincided with a pottery exhibit of the region. I had never known that vessels made of clay and mud could be used for regular cooking. While I lost quite a lot of photos which I had taken of the exhibit due to some error, I have managed to salvage some and I have tried to compile details from my memory too.
Prof. R.S. Bisht giving a talk on Pottery of the Indus Valley Civilization. 
The art of Pottery pre-dates recorded history, as even before the discovery of metals, it was mud and clay that was easily available and used for fashioning vessels/containers for cooking and storing. During my stay at Khamir, I was also fortunate to attend a talk given by none other than the chief Archeologist, Prof. R.S Bisht, who led the excavation of the ruins of Indus Valley civilization, at Dholavira, in Kutch. 
Pictures of slides of the pottery excavated at Dholavira.

The disc with fish motif inspired me. 
He showed us slides and photographs of remarkably well-preserved pieces of pottery, with exquisite designs and patterns which he had excavated. The most interesting part is that the same motifs and patterns are used even till this date in the pottery of Kutch. One thing that particularly caught my attention was a disc with motifs of fish. And the colour of the design was blue. The Prof said that oxygen supply was cut off to the kiln to lend the items that colour. Later during my stay, when the Director of Khamir, Meera, asked me to do a mural in their campus, I incorporated the same fish motif and other patterns of pottery.
The fish motif I used for my wall art at Khamir
The exhibit had vessels for everything, right from kulads for drinking beverages from, to pots and pans for cooking anything ranging from lentils (daal) to rotis (flatbread) in. Even the skillet for making rotis were made in different sizes, the largest being used by the nomadic tribes to make bigger size rotis as they would have to walk a lot before the next break for food. There were pots stacked one of top of the other in decreasing sizes, starting from bottom, used to store grains, cereals, and grocery. Then there were pots for storing buttermilk, curd and other beverages. There was even a particularly shaped pot which could be used for transporting water and beverages during travel. Sorry I don’t have the picture of that.
Different items for various purposes.

Pottery had an important role to play even during rituals and rites of passage. The pots and clay items presented to the bride during the wedding were shaped differently from the ones used during a funeral. But there was one thing common to all the items made, and that was the intricate patterns on the items.
Items used for auspicious occasions. 
You will also notice that different items are of a different colour. Some are whitish, whereas some others are red, brown, and so forth. That's the colour of clay sourced from different places. The choice or colour of the clay used depends on what the end product would be used for and the availability of the same locally. The clay is then moulded into the desired shaped either on a wheel or by hand and allowed to air dry for a while. The patterns on the items are made using a thin brush and using a watered down clay of a different colour, commonly known as a ‘slip’.  Then the coloured slip is applied of the desired pattern and design. This is then baked in a kiln. The temperature of the kiln is also set depending on what the end product would be used for. You must be aware that some pots are used as musical instruments. For such and other purposes requiring durability and strength, the clay items are baked at a higher temperature and for some others not very high. In earlier days people used wood fired kilns, but now-a-days, electric kilns are used, like the one I saw at Khamir. In the electric ones, the temperature can be set between 400 to 1500 degrees Celsius depending on the type of clay and the product.
The kiln at Khamir- the temperature can be set anywhere between 400 to 1500 degrees Celsius. 
Clay vessels and pots are not only beautiful and as old as civilization itself but it’s also the most eco-friendly. In today’s markets, flooded with cheap plastic goods, the potter community is steadily shrinking and also struggling to keep their art and skill alive, as their children move to the cities in search of well paid jobs. As soon as I returned from Kutch, the first thing I did was go and buy an earthen pot for storing and drinking water from, which I had never done before. That was the least I could have done to support the potters of India.
Contemporary designs- Flasks and water jugs made of clay. 

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