At the crack of dawn on Sundays, a mile-long stretch in Kashmir’s summer capital, Srinagar, turns into a lucrative space where transactions worth millions of rupees takes place. BILAL HANDOO reports various aspects of what has become known as Sunday Market.
The ennui of a Sunday morning is broken by a swarm of vendors and shoppers who pour into Srinagar’s shopping hub, Lal Chowk, at the crack of dawn. A mile-long stretch from Tourism Reception Centre to Clock Tower in the heart of Srinagar become a business hub for thousands of vendors who lay down their merchandise on makeshift stalls in what has popularly become known as Sunday Market. This is not an ordinary market.
Fayaz Ahmad is a resident of Khanyar in old city. On Sunday, he is busy distributing merchandise to a select group of vendors who work for him in Srinagar’s Sunday Market. Fayaz is one of the few affluent persons running who hold charge of the business that takes place here. “I order huge chunk of merchandise from Delhi which includes second-hand shoes, garments, artificial jewellery, books, almost everything which is then distributed among a select group of vendors who work for me. The sale is usually satisfactory, quite enough to stay in the business,” he said. Without divulging details of his daily earning, Fayaz claims that his business in the market runs into millions of rupees.
Quest for branded material, although second-hand, which comes at a cheap price, drives many sections of society in Kashmir to pay a visit to Sunday Market. This mammoth market is more than a shopping hub; it is goldmine for big fishes like Fayaz, but a source of income and a ray of hope for the majority of vendors who work here to earn quick bucks to support the financial needs of their families.
Swarms of vendors arrive with their merchandise in wee hours of Sunday, take their space and set up their stalls. Load carriers, full of second hand clothes and other goods, arrive here. As the stalls are being prepared, a huge rush of customers pours in. Raising cries of trade to appeal their customers, vendors are swarmed by buyers throughout the day. Never ending hustle-bustle of this market gives it more of a look of festivity than a shopping activity.
Nazir Ahmad, a medico, visits Sunday Market along with his kids almost every Sunday. “Shopping is really a good deal here. You gain a pound of flesh at the cost of few bucks,” he said. Like him, Imran Bhat, a Kashmir University student frequently visits Sunday Market to get hold of what he calls ‘rare stuff’. “This market has lot of things to offer in terms of variety and brands which one cannot find in big shops of Srinagar,” he said.
Imran recently purchased branded jeans at a negligible cost which he said was much better in quality than the one sold at retail outlets.
Not only are the locals, tourists from across the India and foreign countries also shop here. Be it a local or an outsider, everybody is seen busy either selling or purchasing items which make this market lively. Archana, a tourist from West Bengali said that the market was full of colors. “There is so much variety available here,” she said. Sumitra, a young girl from Chandigarh is one of sellers who vend leather items in this market every year. At the end of the season, she is content with her earnings.
“During spring, I come here and sale is usually good till the arrival of winters,” she said. Non native vendors are seen in large numbers here and almost everybody is happy with their share of gain. Sunday Market never stops to amaze one with its distinct characters. For example, Quacks, who offer instant relief for most of ailments with their medicines, are here too. No one cares to ask them questions.
While vendors working in this market put in their blood and sweat to lure the customers, a large percentage of the earning goes into the pockets of distributors. A number of men on load carriers owned by the ‘affluent’ men of Sunday Market distribute goods to these vendors but that doesn’t bother the vendors. ”I earn around five hundred rupees on a good day while the rest goes into the accounts of big bosses,” says Riyaz Mir, a vendor. These vendors usually work on a commission basis. The more they sell, the more profit they earn.
People like Fayaz, the distributor, have other markets in the operation. Apart from selling their merchandise in Sunday Market, they also operate in different villages through numerous outlets during the rest of the week. Ladakh is the hot destination for them. “Our distributors are spread across different regions in Kashmir.
They channel our goods to regional markets,” said another distributor, Mushtaq. But Sunday Market is a goldmine from them. “Owing to the huge rush, this market churns out good revenue for all of us,” Mushtaq says. Spaces for stalls in Sunday Market are usually reserved.
Not everyone can sell their items here without paying money to those who ‘own’ the space. A single stall can cost about Rs 50,000 to 60,000 and hardly anyone is interested to sell these spaces due to a huge profit that a vendor makes selling his merchandise. “This market is a golden goose for most of the vendors here There is no question of leaving it for others,” says a shoe vendor, Arif Bhat.
One of the common scenes in the market is the juvenile carry-bag sellers. These kids, hardly ten to twelve year old, follow buyers like a shadow till they purchase their bags. Once these kids spot a shopper, they plead with him/her to buy their bags too. Most of them also go to school, but on Sundays, the poverty drives them to the market. “We make four to five hundred rupees a day,” says Aamir, while pleading a customer to buy his bag. Kids like Aamir purchase dozens of these bags from a stockiest in Rainawari and throng this market on Sunday. They are not Fayaz’s men.
Apart from garments and shoes, second-hand books are a jewel of this market. Huge bibliophiles, children’s books, literature books, comics, etc. are available here in plethora at a meager cost. These book stalls are owned by a local bookstore owner who orders them directly from Western countries like United States. “We have a huge stock of books at Narwara area of old city. On Sundays, we put some books on stalls here,” said the proprietor of Al-Noor Bookshop, Hilal Ahmad.
Sunday Market is turning out to be a recreational place as well. Youngsters roam around the stalls, families stroll and tourists enjoy the liveliness of the place. The appeal of Sunday Market is hard to overlook. “We usually do most of the shopping here. This market is worth a revisit every Sunday,” said head of the Baig family, Zamir Baig.