>From Russell Market to Quadrant Road

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The Ayurvedic and Unani Pharmacy

 If you happen to be at Shivaji Circle on a week day, do step in to the Ayurvedic and Unani Pharmacy on Meenakshi Kovil Street. As I stood there looking at it, my mind walked back to childhood days when our noses were held hostage by the common cold. My father would then call upon the miraculous powers of an old Unani remedy, `Joshanda ‘ to banish the stubborn sniff and have us breathe freely again. Years later, it is still our first option for curing colds. It is slightly bitter and must be drunk piping hot. Unani is an ancient, non-invasive, holistic healing therapy which originated in Unan. It was formalised as a healing system by the famous Hakim Ibn Sina and there is mention of it even all the way back to the time of Hippocrates. Ibn Sina,or Avicena, The Father of Modern Medicine, as he is called in the West, was deeply interested in the world and evidently found its layers fascinating.In order to plumb its depths ( a goal shared by most other famous men of knowledge.. Da Vinci, Galeileo ), he was not only a skilled physician but also a philosopher, astronomer and mathematician amongst other things. Unani is very effective and was extremely popular till a decade or two ago.It has faded a little from our daily routine probably because it hasn’t yet been discovered by Western pop / Hollywood film stars who can re-package it for the rest of the world and send it back to India !

Shaik, Sheikh, Shake ?

Once you are done with the pharmacy, a mango, badaam, kulfi shaik, anyone ? Somehow this stall seems really popular because it always has a crowd around it. It’s right opposite the Shivajinagar Bus Stand and there are more people asking for a `Pista Shaik ‘ here than at the Sreeraj Lassi Bar near by. I am adventurous no doubt, but not a risk taker, so I think I will pass on this one for now and carry on to Russell Market. Besides, I have discovered a fabulously new word today and am just dying to use it immediately. “What’s shaiking, dude ? ” Do the Hippy, Hippy Shaik…Shaik your body now !

Walking down from the Bus Station to Russell Market, I stop to gaze at the impressive BBMP murals. While opinions are divided on the quality of the art and the aesthetic sensibilities of our civic body, it is undeniable that they have given walls in Bangalore a new identity.  I wonder, if in the process beautiful brickwork and heritage walls might have been irrevocably lost in some places across the city ? While I ruminate, elsewhere, the public is trying to cope with a new quandry. On one hand the walls aren’t available anymore, but then, neither are public toilets.To do or not to do…that seems to be the question !



Amjad Bhai the local historian

I walk past  Russell Market and turn right. At the Haji Baba Paan Shop I ask permission to take a picture and am politely told Amjad Bhai has been shot previously by many dailies and magazines. Sigh. He’s right. Everyone who writes about Bangalore seems to follow the same same beaten path . Since he says his shop is over 150 years old, I stop anyway and ask him about `Blackpalli ‘. He squeaks in agitation, and informs me that `Beelakpalli ‘was only a locality and not all of Shivajinagar as we mistakenly assume.He also tells me it used to be called `Lashkar ‘ ( which means `army’ in Urdu-Farsi ). All this while he continues to intuitively  make `paan beedas’ for several puzzled customers and promises to introduce me to his friend `Chaudhary ‘ who apparently is a veritable mine of information on Shivajinagar. Then he delivers the punch line and tells me that Shivajinagar is named after Shivaji Ganeshan, due to the sizeable Tamil population here ! Hmm. This is one theory even I haven’t heard before. He then makes me a paan beeda and admonishes me when I reach for my wallet to pay for it.

A colourful palette..palate..

The Russell Market area is predominantly where rice, pulses, fruits, poultry, meats and vegetables are sold. Before it was built in 1927, the Cantonment got its supplies from a little market which used to be located around Bowring Institute. Rusell Market deserves a blog in itself, so I wont go into details here. The old market, according to Paul Byron Norris ( Follow my Bangalorey Man ), was the Cantonment Bazaar, `practically a town in itself and …before 10 ‘o’ clock in the morning, prices were dear because the market was deluged by a flood of domestic servants eager to obtain the best produce” .

Structure in the midst of chaos  !

Many shop owners have been in exactly the same space for generations. Sons and grandsons in turn, get educated and come back to run the family shop /business. The eco-systems are set and constant. When I came upon this unusual display of fruit, it seemed ironical that this extremely methodical and symmetrical layout was a direct contrast to the chaos and unstructured existence flourishing all around it !


The perfumes of Arabia

When Lady Macbeth stated that ` all the perfumes from Arabia will not sweeten this little hand ‘ she probably hadn’t been gifted a little vial of `Ittr’  (or `Attar’)  yet. When new plant species were brought  to India by the Mughals from Central Asia it eventually lead to the discovery of the process of preparing attar  from roses by Noorjehan, the Mughal queen. The term apparently comes from the Persian word ` Itr’ meaning `to smell sweet. ‘ Noorjehan was a smart, savvy woman, much ahead of her times and I can almost visualise her personally supervising the plucking of thousands of rose petals just before dawn, distilling the vapours in the royal palace, blending it with sandalwood oil and capturing it in a crystal bottle before  dabbing it seductively behind her ears and on her wrists, while she waited for the Emperor Jehangir to come to her. This shop has no royal pretensions, but it did have many opportunities to lead fickle noses astray. ( A famous Attar shop in India is apparently Gulab Singh Johri Mal in Dariba Kalan, New Delhi, established in 1816.)
Old Poor House Road

Before I venture into the intricate gully’s of Shivajinagar with St.Mary’s Basilica behind me, I pass by the cane shops where everything that can possibly be woven out of cane and bamboo is available. Bamboo Bazaar is near Cantonment Station, but here, its a veritable feast for the natural fibre afficionado. I walk briskly, not stopping to browse because I’m headed to New Taj Hotel and Quadrant Road.

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2 comments

  1. Russel market… Bangalore’s first ‘mall’ in my opinion.. the market show during Christmas was legendary and so was the Kamti Muttai.. as a kid my toys were bought from the toy shop inside Russel Market. Truly special place !!

  2. I am enjoying reading your blog. Brings back so many memories. 25 years ago before I left India I used to hang out at my Marwari friends shop on Quadrant Road next to Nathan Medicals.

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