Monday, June 28, 2004

CityScapes: Russel Market

‘Russell’ up a square deal at this market

Russell Market Square - with its fresh vegetables, fruits and meat stalls, kababs and Irani tea stalls, and the innumerable other shops around it - is quite a ‘happening place’.

As Bangalore turns into an international shopping bonanza - with brightly lit fancy malls, eyeball catching hoardings of international brands, plush food courts, coffee houses with 25 varieties of coffees, multiplexes and an atrium where bands perform - with footfalls over the weekends creating traffic jams on the roads leading to them - I wonder whatever will happen to Russell Market?

One of the oldest markets in Bangalore, Russell Market was built around 1927 and its clientele included English memsahibs who were driven in their horse drawn carriages to source their vegetables and meat for their kitchens. Even today, several restaurants in the City source their vegetables from Russell Market. I met a German restaurateur in Tiruvanamalai who said he drove down every weekend in his station wagon to Bangalore to buy vegetables for the week from Russell Market. He runs ‘Ushas’, a quaint vegetarian restaurant in Tiruvanamalai, that dishes up continental fare for its largely western clientele that comes to the neighbouring Ramana Ashram.

Some of the rarest, exotic vegetables, fruits and flowers can be found in Russell Market. For example, red jalapenos, red cabbage, artichokes, celery, broccoli, water cress, avocados, kiwis, gladioli, tulips, exotic roses etc.

But the touch and feel of Russell Market is not limited to the market alone, which is in itself a tourist attraction with its beautiful architecture, but the whole Russell Market Square which has contributed to giving the area its old world look. Take for instance St Mary's Basilica - the church opposite the Square built in 1818, with its Parisian stained glass windows. But don’t ever attempt going to the Square during St Mary’s festival, when hordes of lilac clothed disciples throng the Basilica.
One of the other icons in the Russell Market Square is Adams, where steel, crockery, cutlery and plasticware are sold. The saying among old Bangaloreans is that if you are looking for something and don’t know where to look, you will find it at Adams. I once found a bathroom weighing scale there and on another visit an ironing table.

Next door to Adams is the oldest antique shop, where some of the quaintest furniture can be found. A marble inlaid circular centre table that was used by an English nobleman, an old gramphone, a teakwood medicine chest, with several tiny drawers.... nobody is ever around in this shop, so you can browse around to your delight and when you decide you want something or want to know its price, all you have to do, is go over to the back and yell out for someone to attend on you.

Another shop that is found off the Square is the only authentic NCC outlet, where you will find all the NCC paraphernalia that your son’s school wants you to get, like badges, berets, belts, ribbons, pins and lapels.

Then what cannot be missed are the rows of cane furniture shops. A tiny gully from Adams leads to these furniture shops beside the main square, opposite which is a makeshift clothes bazaar. The cane chairs may turn out to be a little rickety and you may have to guard against someone plonking themselves on your delicate low seat, for it could collapse along with them.

If all the shopping has made you hungry and you are not overly concerned about hygiene then there are all those food outlets, opposite Russell Market selling kababs and Irani tea. These shops may not be able to compete with the expensive and plush foodcourts of the malls, but some of the best kababs are sold at Russell Market Square.

JANAKI MURALI, Deccan Herald


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