Monday ke Monday

The Peer (Monday) Bazaar in Nizamuddin Basti is one of the hundreds of weekly bazaars that pop up on different days of the week in different neighbourhoods of Delhi. What makes this bazaar unique is that it takes place during the day (between 9 am and 3 pm) unlike most other weekly bazaars which start late in the afternoon and go on till late at night. Some Basti residents and bazaar vendors claim there is no particular reason for the timing of the bazaar, saying, ‘Kuch din mein hote hain, kuch sham ko, yehwalla din mein hota hai.’ (‘Some happen in the day, some in the evening, this bazaar happens to take place in the day.’) Others, including vendors and customers, provide a host of reasons for the timing such as lack of street lighting and safety after darkness. The other unique aspect of the bazaar is that it is not located on the sides of a road or on a footpath, like most others, but meanders through the labyrinths of the Basti, also using a square open space near the Hazrat Inayat dargah.

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A large number of vendors hail from Meerut, Bulandshahr and other parts of Uttar Pradesh. They set shop in different localities of Delhi on five days of the week and then head back home for a day or two to meet family and source their wares. They live in cheap and often shared accommodation in the Basti, but do not consider their dwellings appropriate enough to shift their families here.
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Shop selling cloth material. The bazaar has a large number of such shops as also those selling laces, buttons, thread and sewing equipment, to meet the needs of the Basti women who prefer to sew their own clothes.

According to Illyas Khan, the pradhan of the bazaar, this bazaar is twenty years old. For the first two years or so, it used to take place on Fridays, before being shifted to Mondays. He tells me with great pride that the bazaar is very organized and clean, and that he personally ensures that pickpockets are caught and punished.

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Most vendors in the bazaar do not use any elaborate infrastructure for setting up their shops and instead use the surface of the ground and the walls of the Basti to display their wares. Using a local tentwalla to supply tables and other material for setting up shops, as is common practice in most weekly bazaars, is not viable here given the narrow gullies.
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A woman selecting cups from a pile, taking an excruciating long time to select matching and non-defective ones. The ceramic cups are sourced by the vendor from Khurja in Uttar Pradesh.
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Woman customer checking out cloth material. ‘Sab auratein Monday bazaar karti hain’, literally meaning ‘all women do the Monday bazaar’, is something women of the Basti will tell you, emphasizing the crucial role that the bazaar plays in their lives.

Rani, a middle-aged woman, who has been going to the bazaar since it started, says, ‘Pehle sirf do jane aaye the, ab itni dukane ho gayi hain ki ginti bhi nahin hai.’ (‘The bazaar started with just two vendors, now there are so many shops that you can’t even count them.’) Rani, like other women in the Basti, eagerly looks forward to the bazaar and rarely misses it any week. It is among the few places she steps out to, by herself. ‘Mushkil se ek ghanta ghoomti hoon, zyada nahin ghoomti. Kabhi function wunction ho toh alag baat hai, nahin toh mein zyada saaman nahin khareedti. Par jaati Monday ke Monday zaroor hoon.’ (‘I roam around in the bazaar for an hour or so, not more. If I am shopping for a particular occasion, it’s different, otherwise I don’t buy too many things. But I definitely go every Monday.’) When I ask her what has changed in the bazaar over the last twenty years, she chooses to comment on shopping practices rather than the bazaar per say, reminiscing that earlier she would buy one pair of suit, which she would use for festivals like Eid, weddings and other functions in the family. Now she can buy a suit any time that she has money—‘Ab toh paisa hona chahiye toh suit khareed lo’.

—Samprati

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