When The Past And Present Collide – A Marriage Of Contemporary Fashion And History
A seasoned traveler will always tell you to take a trip to the local markets of the places you visit, this is the nerve center and soul of the city’s culture, its people, its traditions and its life. In-spite of knowing this fully well I entered the Mahatma Phule Mandai in Pune only a few weeks back, for the first time, under the pretext of shooting this series which had been brewing in my head for a while now.
There is a stark difference between this mandai and the Shivaji market in camp – the people, the layout, the architecture, the energy and the way the place has been maintained, are all extremely different. The vendors are mostly proud Marathas and you will see a lot of women in Nauvari Sarees (the Peshwai way of draping a saree) and men in dhotis and Maharashtrian topis.
The market starts early and is consumed by a flurry of activity by 8 am. If you happen to be in the market at opening time you will notice the devotion the vendors have for their trade, each vendor sweeps and cleans his or her area of work, once cleanliness is ensured they take their footwear off and proceed to pray to the deities, to their little safes, the weighing balance and any other tools of trade they might be using, soon the entire market is engulfed in a fragrant smoke coming from incense sticks and the delicate sounds of prayer bells ringing. The reason behind the cleanliness of the mandai was very obvious to me, people here treat their trade as their religion and the mandai as their place of worship.
Mahatma Phule Mandai Pune
Built on an 8 acre area this eighty feet structure has distinctive British architecture and a genius layout which almost seems way ahead of its times. The construction of the building was undertaken between 1882 and 1886 at a cost of approximately Rs2.3 lacs. It was inaugurated at the hands of the then governor of Bombay, Lord Reay, after whom the mandai was named Lord Reay market, it was later changed to Mahatma Phule Mandai.
In the years right after its construction, the market activity would start as early as 4am, when men and women would visit the market for the freshest produce which was brought right from the fields. Until 1966 the mandai also housed the Pune Muncipal Corporation office on the floors above the mandai, which is why it became more than just a vegetable market, it became the centre of all activity. During the Ganpati festival, which is the biggest and most important festival in Maharashtra, the mandai witnesses a lot of enthusiastic activity, the Ganpati procession till date starts from the mandai.
The mandai’s layout is one of a kind with 8 openings and a separate section for each kind of produce – there is a section for potatoes and onions, a section for green vegetables, a section for banana leaves and other puja samagri, there is even a section for seasonal vegetables. Each produce has a place of its own and yet the entire market merges into a seamless whole. Each vendor has their own very vintage looking area which is raised about 3 feet off the ground, between the raised platform where they sit and the ground is a teeny tiny room, which some use as storage and some use as a place to rest during the hot afternoons. The interiors are all wooden and exude an intense vintage charm, nothing seems to have been touched by the cruel hands of time, every tiny detail is distinct and old.
The mandai selling space is passed on from generation to generation and is treated as a precious heirloom by the vendors. The people are as warm as the interiors, we met Aaji who has been selling fresh green chillies in the market for over 30 years, she loves her job and would never want to sell anything other than chillies she says.
We met Sonali (not pictured), who welcomed me to sit on the raised seat of her little turf in the mandai, she told me about how she had to take over the business at the tender age of 15, when her father suddenly passed away. We met a talented gentleman who uses his spare time to make the most detailed astonishing miniature carvings out of dental powder. Everyone in the mandai was so loving and welcoming, each one had a story of their own, each one had a struggle, but all of them smiled bright when they saw us…It is true isn’t it?..to experience a city in its most unadulterated avatar, you must visit the market..This is true Puneri hospitality culture and tradition – a smile on the face and warmth in the heart.
Wearing a khadi kurta over a traditional ghagara skirt and a waistcoat to lift things a little. The accessories are all tribal Rabari jewellery, these are my proud possessions acquired over a period of time.
All the pictures you see have been shot by Pinaki Ghosh, who is a talented and enthusiastic photographer. So grateful to have been connected to him, eve more grateful to have worked with him on this shoot, which I hold so close to my heart.