Memories from the 70s: Oh Russell Market!

What was it like, to shop in Russell Market? A throwback to the good old days!

A recent news report about the iconic Russell market in Bangalore likely to make way for a swanky new market as part of “Smart city” plan, triggered a flood of memories and resulted in me penning down this account.

The family Ambassador would gently amble past glorious St Mary’s Basilica and park in the square in front of the market. Finding a parking spot was a no-brainer back then. We kids (siblings and I) would tumble out of the car in earnest with big baskets in hand, with an elder or two keeping a watchful eye on us.

We would enter the market from the main entrance, flanked by beautiful sweet smelling flowers displayed for sale. Only much later on, I would get to know that the lovely round formations displayed were wreaths, and the purpose they were made for!

When the elders were in a good mood, they allowed us to stomp up the wooden stair case near the entrance, to catch a glimpse of the latest fish in the aquariums in the pet store on the first floor.

Back on the ground, the friendly vegetable vendors would shout out, beckoning us to visit their stalls. The conversation was always in Urdu, Tamil or amusing “Butler English”. The stalls were a delight to gaze at with fresh vegetables stacked neatly. There was just enough space for the owner to stand in the middle of the store to lord over his business. On the rare occasion we saw him step out, he would grab hold of a rope dangling from above and swing out – a la Tarzan! A few more stops for vegetables and fruits, and we would exit the building from where the Aalco store is today.

Next stop was usually for groceries at the Gem stores. The gentleman wearing a tall Labbay topi who managed it was a real gem. He would invite us inside and offer stools to sit on. A clipboard with long narrow strips of papers was pulled out to take down our order. He would then bark out the names and quantity of grains, pulses, and spices to his underlings, who dexterously fold old newspapers to make appropriate sized packets into which the items would go. A gunny thread dangling from above was used to tie the packets which are then placed carefully in our baskets. On many an occasion, us kids used to get raisins or “misri” sugar as treats.

Then it was on to freshly ground coffee. We would go past chicken and turkey sellers to reach Pachappa coffee works, whose intoxicating smell offered a much-needed breather.

On the day’s when meat was cooked at home, our first stop used to be the mutton market on the back portion of the market building. Mr. Rao our regular butcher, would invite us to climb on to his store platform to take a seat. The dangling carcasses mesmerized us from close quarters. He would go on to selects choice portions of lamb meat and pass it on to his assistants for cleaning and cut it to appropriate sizes.

Christmas season was the best time to visit Russell market. The frontage would be lit up with serial lights in the evenings. Temporary stalls would appear alongside it, selling colourful sugar figures and cubes; large balloons, and sweetmeats of the Christmas season. The entire area – the Church, Square and the side streets wore a festive look with lots of people shopping and milling around.

The inside of the mutton market would be decked up with lights and coloured crepe paper and there appeared to be a competition among the butchers to showcase the best mutton on display. The dangling meat definitely had more fat around this time of the year.

The highlight of the season was the display of a gigantic fish, usually a shark, in the fish market on the back lane of the market building.

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