From Mela to Malls – the Indian market goes 21st century

by 21cstories

A local market in Rajasthan

A local flea market in Rajasthan (1969)

The resilience and resourcefulness of the local Indian can not be denied. Even in the hot terrains of Rajasthan, every opportunity of doing business is fully explored and exploited.

This is the weekly flea market (haat or mandi) at Rawatbhata, near Kota in Rajasthan. The nuclear reactor built in 1970s brought with it people from all over India to work and live in sprawling colonies. The vegetable market held ‘downtown’ every Sunday is where people stocked up their week’s supply of fruits and vegetables.

One can notice its very random and disorganised state – the pic was taken on a light business day before the residents had moved in, and usually this place was choc-a-bloc with vendors and customers. Although vendors tried to sit in straight lines so as to allow the customers to move along, the chaotic state is typical of all Indian markets and other aspects of public life. From art to living and culture, the ‘straight line’ is found wanting.  Th e ‘mela’ – literally, the meeting of people – is the defining part of Indian culture.

A shopping mall

A shopping mall

In modern times, the malls follow the mela culture. The vendors though sit in glitzy rooms, but the atmosphere around is that of a typical mela. The item song is the new cabaret, shopping a retail therapy, and the mall is the new mela of emerging India.

Photos courtesy:, and Peter & Jackie Main