To be connected locally is to live life in high-definition. For life hides and reveals itself in details, often so minute that unless we explore it through local language and cuisine and through the eyes of the people we talk to, we live through a blur.
My penchant for going local got deeper as malls and convenience stores started becoming a menace in Bengaluru. Ever since we moved to the northern side of the city over three years ago, a visit to the Sunday Raithara Santhe or Raithara Mandi (farmers’ market) located in Old Yelahanka has become my weekly pilgrimage.
It’s not just the freshness of the fruits and vegetables that is a draw here, but also the sheer human compression, the absence of hyper-reality and the presence of farmers’ striving and perseverance that begin in their fields and culminate here.
On all days except Mondays, farmers bring their as-fresh-as-it-gets produce here as early as 3 am. The market keeps speeding at full throttle till almost 9 am. I reach the Sunday Santhe a little after sunrise. So soused it is in the early-morning mist, yet so pulsating with life! Soaking myself up in the effervescence that spills out of every spigot of this Santhe’s soul means replenishing my energies till the next visit.
What an endearing an experience of everything that is local! This is the soul of Yelahanka. In every sense of the word.
The no-nonsense lot
Once at the spot, you have to get picking immediately to avoid annoying the farmers. The goods come at dirt-cheap rates and bargaining for small quantities is not entertained. The sales happen only in quarter kgs upwards; sometimes, half a kg depending on what you buy.
The farmers do not put up with two things: indecisiveness of any sort and then, of course, lack of change in your purse. If you are a familiar face, they may smile at you and pay attention to your specifics. Otherwise, pick what you want and move on. Remember, it’s a total no-nonsense crowd and you must learn to emulate them on that aspect. Because the focus is on bulk selling and you are only squeezing yourself in during their ‘prime time’.
Hoteliers and retailers fill truckloads of vegetables and the heavy bargaining by bulk buyers hits the roof as announcements on prices through loud-speakers get repeated. As loaded trucks file out, empty ones line up outside the compound wall. The entire road leading up to the market goes chock-a-block and you have to jostle you way through the crowd.
It’s a scene awash with tumult and purpose. You buy what you need and leave the spot.
The hearty farming lot
Though it is so crowded and on the edge, none of this overpowers one of the most beautiful human qualities: generosity. In fact, GENEROSITY. On every purchase, you actually come home gifted with at least 50-100 gms of extra produce. If you are a regular, the farmers don’t mind adding a few more carrots and brinjals and handfuls of beans and peas. That includes even a 100 gm more of apples, pears and oranges in the shops located right outside the Mandi. For fruits, I have Md Nazim Khan who lets me go inside his stall and handpick fruits of my choice. And of course, tips on seasonal fruits come at free of cost.
You also find cereals, spices and even mushrooms which come at Rs 35. The same gets sold at Rs 60 at convenience stores. Most of the produce you get here is of local variety, I mean, naati. This is the best I get next to organic ones as my balconies don’t allow me to grow all my needs due to lack of continuous and direct sunlight.
My best buy is naati eggs. One farmer comes with a basket filled with these eggs, but only on Sundays. They are much smaller compared to the hybrid varieties we get outside. I can tell you for sure the taste differs significantly. If the eggs break while picking, he puts it in a plastic bag patiently and takes it back home.
Let’s go local
We all know that convenience stores do not grow their own fruits and vegetables. Almost all of them in Yelahanka get their supplies from this Mandi and wrap them in plastics to ensure ‘hygiene’. The hype that some brands created in the early 2000s about keeping prices low by sourcing the produce directly from the farmers and eliminating middlemen went nowhere. Prices go up invariably inside these stores where alienation skulks around you just as their salespersons.
By going local, you will truly support the local farmers and save multiple outings for yourself. There must be one such place in your area and it is awaiting your visit. Go there and celebrate the harmonies of life with all the crowd and noise intact. If you do not support it, it will soon be a world irretrievably lost to mindless modernisation. And then it will be a fantasy that can only be lived backwards. Moreover, it offers you many opportunities to save your carbon footprint.