Saturday, January 28, 2012

Another day at Sarafa Market

I went back to Sarafa Market today here in Meerut. Another truly unexpected experience. The rickshaw ride there cost me 40 cents but considering it is a half hour ride I tipped heavily, paying $2. The driver was more than appreciative.

Sarafa Market is huge, probably the largest and oldest market I've ever been to. I went down the lane I had visited two days ago, the spice lane. The aroma of all the spices in the air tickled my nose to no end, the occasional breeze lifting the chili powder into air and occasionally finding it's way into my eyes, burning. I went back to the chai walla (tea maker) and gave him a couple printed photos that I took a couple days prior. He was more than thankful and the boys who received their photos smiled big. Another cup of tea on the house, and a few more photos taken. When I was here two days ago I took a photo of a goat dressed in sweaters, the young boy remembered and so after I finished my tea he grabbed my hand and took me down a few alleys to an open court yard, there he showed me a magnificent ram with beautiful curving horns. The owner posed with the goat for a photo. The boy again grabbed my hand and showed me the way out of the maze and back to the alley.

As during my previous visit shop owners begged to have their photo taken in front of their shops, some with their boys who will eventually take over the family business. I could only manage two or three steps at a time as the requests for photos were so frequent. After a series of photos another boy grabbed my hand and pulled me along the lane to a corner where lunch was being sold. It was his father's little spot where he had the largest pot of palau (rice and vegetables). The boy gave me serving with his father's permission. It was really good, and really spicy. You know it's really spicy when even Indian's start sweating and producing tears. Then the boy brought me a green chili to eat with my rice, I had a hard time explaining to my new friend that I really didn't need the chili. I ate all the rice, thankful that I made it to the last bite. When I tried to pay the father would not accept my money, and again I showed my gratitude by snapping some photos. The father's business was doing great. He brought a huge pot of rice to this corner every day and sold lunch to the shop owners and passerby's. Just as I thought I was going to make my get away a well dressed business man grabbed my hand and motioned for me to go with him down a side alley. We went about fifty feet and into another small tea stand, room for four people inside. He motioned to a boy, said something in Hindi and a few minutes later I had another serving of palau from the father I had eaten from only minutes before. My tongue must have been numb because I had no problem eating this serving, and once done another cup of tea was served. All a gift from the business man.

While I was in the alley where there were few people I decided to put my camera back into my backpack, then I made may way back to the lane for quick escape. At the five way intersection I decided to turn right, the direction the wind was blowing. I walked for about two kilometers where the lane was lined with a variety of hardware stores, tea stands and street food vendors. After some time when I decided to look up at the buildings I realized that I had made my way into the red light district. Girls of all types made up in lots of make up and skimpy clothes lined numerous balconies, many smiling at me and motioning for me to climb the stairs. Climb the stairs I did not, turn around and walk the two kilometers back out of the red light district I did.

Back at the five way intersection I went forward and stopped at another large street food stand where pakoras, samosas and even fried chicken was available. There I took a few photos and, you guessed it, I was offered an abundance of food on the house. Then I continued past more hardware stores, dress shops, all sorts of retail shops and street food carts. Then in one small area all the kite stores were grouped together. Kids were lined up to buy kites, there's a huge kite festival that will happen on February 28 which explains all the kites in the sky every day, kids are practicing their fighting techniques.

Knowing I was headed out of the market area I decided to turn left at the next intersection, the ended up being an interesting choice. A city block or so I noticed a small alley to the right and down that a short bit a group of people sitting and enjoying tea. So I gave in to my curiosity and walked down the side alley where I saw a cart full of sweet potatos and a charcoal stove. Roasted sweet potatoes are favorite snack in the afternoon and evenings. And a few feet away was another tea stand full of people drinking. By now I had a dozen boys behind me, curious as to what this foreigner was doing. More interested in my that what I was doing, actually. A man approached me and said that he would show me something special, something private. With the crowd of boys all nodding their head I followed the man though an elaborate gate and into an Islamic school where there were numerous boys and girls studying both inside the school building and outside in the court yard. I was only allowed to walk 20 feet into the courtyard and then I was told I could only take five photos. My guide was a good counter, right after the fifth photo he grabbed my arm and ushered me back to the street. It was really an experience, even an honor. I know, mom is probably thinking that I'm being unsafe but really, you had to be there. With so many people around me I really doubt anything would happen.

So I made my way back to the street and continued on my way. But not far. The word had gotten around so quickly that there was a foreigner in the area taking photos. I'm not kidding, every three steps and people would beg for their photo and of their store, and of their father, their brother, uncle, even their goat. An hour later I had barely moved, gotten some good photos and then just said enough. I put my camera into my backpack. But five steps later it came out again, then back in. Then out, then in. One man insisted that I be his guest and return at 7pm for dinner. I politely declined, saying I was having dinner with my relatives.

I ended up walking about two or so back to the house. With all it's madness, traffic, noise, pollution, crowded streets and cow shit everywhere I'm still going to miss India. The people are so beautiful, friendly and giving that it more than makes up for any shortcomings. India is India, and I hope it never changes.

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