Is the age-old New Market losing its identity to the glitzy air-conditioned shopping malls springing across the city? Will the nostalgia of such narrow alleys always stuffed with a variety of choices vanish; will the thrill of the “<g data-gr-id="73">most-prestigious</g> shopping arcade” fade away into the dazzle of tiled and <g data-gr-id="74">wiped-clean</g> ambience clubbed with soundless elevators or escalators?
We might not have an answer to this at one go, but definitely from the agony to the ecstasy, from gruelling to facile, from crass to the refined and from the stress to bliss — that’s exactly how the transition from shopping at regular market hubs in sweltering heat and in bespattered condition to the cool, air-conditioned, suave, secured atmosphere of the shopping malls, has taken place in Kolkata.
For the middle-aged and senior citizens, these malls have not only become preferred shopping destinations but also serve as full-fledged entertainment stop-overs. And describing this journey of the paradigm shift can be quite fascinating.
Broadly speaking, there have been three shopping areas earlier for the Kolkatans before the advent of the shopping malls — New Market, Gariahat and Shyambazar-Hatibagan.
Shoppers’ tales can be traced back to the colonial era when the British, in and around <g data-gr-id="82">1850s</g>, just before the Sepoy Mutiny, refused to brush shoulders with the “natives” and displayed their contempt overtly. The result of this outcry was a committee of the Calcutta Corporation, which contemplated a market and turning it to a prize preserve of Calcutta’s British citizens.
Lindsay Street was purchased and under the supervision of R Bayne, a renowned architect, an architecturally Gothic market-complex crystallized in 1873. The news of Calcutta’s first municipal market spread and New Market was thrown open to the English populace on January 1, <g data-gr-id="100">1874</g> and formally named Sir Stuart Hogg Market in 1903 after Sir Stuart, the then Calcutta Corporation’s chairman.
Bengali society, in the Raj era, called it Hogg Saheber <g data-gr-id="72">Bajaar</g>, a name which is still used alongside New Market. The market, along with the adjoining area, evokes a lot of memories, romance and adventure in the minds of many.
The meat shops, grocers and the general stores, the flower shops and the street-side vendors selling <g data-gr-id="97">kathi</g> rolls and kebabs, the glitzy accessory shops and the designer dress stalls, junk jewellery and stones with conspicuous crockery shops alongside the entertainment plazas of Light House, New Empire, Chaplin, Tiger and Globe cinema houses along with the aroma of the spices, the innumerable <g data-gr-id="98">phuchkawallas</g> and the ever-happening, mouthwatering cakes and biscuits from Nahoum’s — all these have rendered a different value to their customers.
A new wing was added after the fire in 1985 and other shopping complexes — Sreeram Arcade and Treasure Island — sprang up. New mega stores and retail outlets of big brands also mushroomed and so did roadside vendors and hawkers with semi-permanent structures. And even now, with each passing day New Market continues to grow.
Earlier, known as the shopping capital of South Calcutta, Gariahat is the retail market for saris (not only from Bengal but also from all over India).
Electronic goods, restaurants, winter wears and stockings, bedcovers, bags, shoes, decorative glass pieces — all together provide a very long stretch for window shopping. All kinds of goods at all kinds of prices are available at Gariahat — from sari stalls near Basanti Devi College to Kanishka, Traders’ Assembly or Kimbadanti.
In North Kolkata, Shyambazar-Hatibagan is the focal point of shopping. Rich sari and fabric collections, exquisite jewellery from renowned jewelers, <g data-gr-id="91">Golbari’r</g> kasha <g data-gr-id="92">mangsho</g> and <g data-gr-id="93">mughlai</g> <g data-gr-id="95">parantha</g> alongside acclaimed sweet shops like <g data-gr-id="94">Dwarik</g> Ghosh, Jalajog out their tentacles and their representations were made loud and clear. These and Sen <g data-gr-id="96">Mahasay</g> made this place an elite business, encouraging members of affluent aristocratic families to shop during Poila Baisakh, Durga Puja and other occasions.
These old market hubs were centres of intense intoxication and nostalgia, achieved without the aid of liquor, had its own charm and resplendence.
Director Sudeshna Roy says: “Malls have a <g data-gr-id="76"><g data-gr-id="68">craze</g></g> but I still go to traditional markets to buy saris, be it Mohini Mohan Kanjilal or Gariahat market. Malls are spacious and you also get a variety of things under the same <g data-gr-id="67">roof</g> but the traditional <g data-gr-id="78">market places</g> cannot be ruled out.”
After our post-modern age began with its veneration of hype and spin, the emergence of shopping malls and their predominance grew manifold with globalisation. The chatter bubble grew bigger and bigger, doubled every time by a mad race to pull more and more customers and cater better and bolder services. Competition brought in qualitative changes. Famous brands came up with shopping centres that became a cauldron of activity, creativity, business, entertainment and congregation.
The <g data-gr-id="71">twirling</g> haze of cigarette smoke vanished, the <g data-gr-id="69">bharer</g> chai was no more to be found, the <g data-gr-id="70">adda</g> acquired a different connotation and romance incurred a sober distinction.
However, this culture of shopping malls, walking into neat, assorted, cool and happening outlets that initially may evoke images of a young person’s hangout, are increasingly attracting a different kind of clientele — the middle-aged and the elderly. Manas Das, a retired banker observed: “Earlier, I never did the groceries for home. It always gave me a lot of stress. These days, I go with my wife and love it. I even meet my friends for coffee or for dinner at these shopping centres. It’s so convenient, you know.”