It isn’t easy to miss Fancy Bazaar when one is in Guwahati. After all, it is its original marketplace. This area is cramped with thousands of shops where you are sure to get everything on your shopping list. Many I know are reluctant to shop here. For obvious reasons, it is always crowded, no matter which part of the day, and maybe because Fancy is the least fancy. After all, it may be wiser to choose to go to air-conditioned malls instead of pushing your way around this market, rubbing sweat with strangers. I am not known for being wise and therefore, malls are my least favorite places. Any given day I prefer coming home with dusty, dirty shoes and sticky skin that is itching to be washed.
I wouldn’t have known the joy of visiting Fancy Bazaar had it not been for a cousin of mine. I remember how she used to so enthusiastically take me there for shopping. We would spend hours checking clothes and bags but mainly me watching her haggle and sympathizing the shopkeepers. I must had entered every single shop with her and it was good fun. I still enjoy going there but nowadays I visit only selected stores. Seven to be precise: a shop that sells household goods, a curtain shop, a bed-sheet shop, one that sells sweaters and shawls (one of the oldest), a tiny jute bags stall by the street and a store where you can get all the party supplies including decorations. These are all wholesale stores and therefore their prices are amazing and fixed. A king-sized bed-sheet with two pillow covers for 400 rupees? Are you kidding me? This works out well for me because my cousin passed on her love for Fancy to me but not her bargaining skills. In the end, I can return home and show off my purchases guilt free and unjudged.
I also visit a book shop every time I’m in Guwahati, but that shop is not exactly in Fancy market. It’s just some footsteps away in Pan Bazaar. It is a Christian book shop. I visit that place mostly to pick books for my parents because at their ages, books are their best companions. I also like to visit a small store in the basement of the same building. There, they sell variety of handmade and hand-woven items made by destitute women. I never come out of this store empty-handed, not because of pity but because the products are truly good.
Back in Fancy Bazaar, street hawkers are shouting “Bis ka do” (two for twenty) and so on. It is so tempting that I have to continuously remind myself that those cotton pajamas or the colorful graffitied t-shirts will fit nobody I know. I walk on. It is extremely noisy out there and you will start rushing even though you have no appointments at all for the rest of the day. You just cannot relax. Very often there are songs and prayers blasting out from worship places of varied religions, but you won’t even notice because there is too much of racket already. I particular hate going near a store that sells phones and CDs and I think speakers too because the volume at which they play songs outside their store is deafening. They must surely be advertising the strength of the speakers. Unlucky me, I always end up standing right in front of those very speakers because the man who makes the best ‘Paan’ in Fancy bazaar sits there.
There is a mall kind of building just opposite my Paanwalla. It is supposedly air-conditioned, but I doubt so. I don’t remember getting anything from there. Anyway, you will find the biggest and the freshest of all fruits in Fancy Bazaar, especially the pomegranates. The sight always makes me wonder why one can’t get the same big juicy fruits elsewhere in the city. I always seem to regret after reaching home for not getting some fruits. But then I am not Hercules.
I know its time to go home when I cannot squeeze in another polythene bag in either of my hands. No matter how much I’d bought, there always seem to be some more on my list. Alas! I have to comfort myself that I can always come back the next day. For a very unreasonable reason, I feel embarrassed to announce to the family that I need to go to Fancy market two days in a row. So, I go to ‘fancier’ places for a day or two and then return to my beloved dirty and smelly market where I get to see people with real faces.
A visit to Fancy is incomplete without a cup of tea from a tea thella (cart) or sugarcane juice or ‘Pani Puri’ that will most probably give you an upset stomach. I mostly prefer a glass of sugarcane juice on the road while checking out decorative pieces made of bamboo carvings brilliantly balanced on a bicycle which reminds me that I haven’t yet bought anything from that man. Next time.