Aurangabad has a farmer’s market, I’ve discovered. And it is as delightfully earthy as its produce.
Truth be told, when my cousin told me about a fresh vegetable market that sprouts up in the neighborhood every Monday, I was not thinking farmer’s market. I associate such things with over-industrialised metros that are craving a re-connect with nature. In a fledgling city like Aurangabad, which is just starting to revel in its urbanisation, I didn’t expect such a need existed.
So, I wasn’t too excited. I imagined it would be a bunch of rag-tag vendors who service the area as a polite weekly call. Maybe there would be four or five ladies sitting in front of scanty bunches of spinach, a man overseeing a pile of onions and potatoes, and a few others to round out the basics for every home’s grocery supply. Nothing to write home about.
Was I wrong. Ensconced between the Walmart EasyDay and a heritage dargah (mosque), a colorful and lively bazaar was bustling busily under a wide morning sky when I drove up.
Spread out across an open air arena the size of a football field, I saw close to a hundred men and women sitting in individual spaces, perched on jute sacks with their farm’s yield of fruits, vegetables and spices stacked around them. Cleverly, the entrance to the market had vendors of reusable grocery bags, since none of the individual produce-sellers inside provided plastic bags or anything else. None of the bags or vendors carried any kind of environmentalist message, but the intent was innate.
I started strolling through the market, trying to take in all that was on offer. Bundles of young fenugreek and spinach sat next to overbunched sprigs of coriander, an explosion of vibrant green freshness. Seasonal carrots blushed bright red, while long, white radishes brandished their green leafy mantles pompously. Fresh ginger root spilled out of bulging sacks; I have never seen so much ginger in my life. When I turned my head the other way, plump little aubergines seemed to bounce up and down, wanting to be picked up and taken home. Sedate cucumbers waited patiently next to them. Fresh from the soil, vegetables and fruits were in full abundance everywhere I looked.
Down the line, a buxom woman hawker was cheerfully calling out the delicious sweetness of her fruit ware. She caught my eye and beckoned me over.
“Tai, you must take some of my guavas with you. They are so full of sweetness!” She flashed a big, toothy smile at me, addressing me as sister.
I smiled back at her, disarmed by the genuine warmth in her eyes. She had a grand nose ring adorning her face, in the traditional style but bigger and more ornate. A large red dot of vermillion on her forehead and antique gold earrings along the length of her ear lobes completed the picture. I could see wrinkles, weathered under the sun, tilling fields every day. They seemed the most natural addition to her face.
“I’m allergic to guavas,” I responded.
“Oh,” she said, momentarily deflated. The cheer flooded back and she looked up, saying, “so what would you like?”
“How about the papayas?” I asked.
“Sure!” She set about picking out some ripe red papayas for me. They looked luscious, all of them. Some were ready to be split open then and there, so juicy did they look.
I started looking through the pile, picking up one, feeling its firmness. The whole while that i was choosing the perfect fruit, I heard her connecting with other customers, with the same genuineness that drew me to her. She seemed to love her fruits as if they were her kids. I dawdled, wanting to hang around in the companionable air.
“Have you decided, Tai?” She enquired, coming back to me.
“Yes,” I said, hurriedly. “These two will be great.”
“Good choice, you’ll really enjoy them! Have this one tonight, and the other one after two days, it will be perfect then.”
I paid her, she gave me her signature smile again, and I bid her goodbye. In that crowd of eager farmer hawkers, she stood out, for her friendliness. I hope I see her next Monday.
Taking a final look around the market, I realized how blessed I was to have this in my neighbourhood. Farm fresh produce, offered by the farmers themselves. How much better can it get?