“Have you ever visited the Cox Town New Year’s market show?”
Ask this question to people who have been living for years in and around Cox Town, Bangalore. The reactions can cover the entire spectrum of emotions from excitement and joy to frustration and even downright fear. Every year on New Year’s Day umpteen hawkers converge onto Cox Town to create a lively flea market. I first experienced it as a child. Now, even after nearly three decades this neighborhood fair still thrives and draws hordes of people. This year again was no different. On New Year’s Day, I went there with my family at about seven in the evening. As always, the extravaganza of the flea market was laid out for everyone to experience!
Now what exactly is this market all about? The location of the market is the stretch from Frazer Town Police Station to Cox Town Circle and thereon to Doddikunta Circle. This is one of the tree-lined roads that still remind Bangalore of its yesteryear tag of “Garden City”. This entire distance will be filled with vendors selling all kinds of wares. Some of the by-lanes along this stretch will also host a few vendors who are unable to find real estate on the main stretch. The pavement on both sides and the median are where the improvised and sometimes impoverished stalls are laid out. This automatically creates two walkways for all the people who visit the market. There are no standards on how the stalls should be. It could be a push cart with four wheels; a simple bicycle with a large basket; one or more wooden tables; the trunk of a tree wherever applicable; and in the worst case polythene sheets spread out on the asphalt. Vendors get their prized portion of the pavement on a first-come-first-served basis. There is no one to regulate this. All vehicular movement is stopped towards 4 in the evening. From thereon until 11 in the night amidst the cacophony and illuminated by streetlights & lamps, it is just the sea of people visiting the flea market.
During my childhood, my grandparents who took me to this market used to give me a simple advice. “It will be very crowded, so be sure that you stay with us. In case you lose yourself, just manage to find your way home”. This was an advice scary enough to make me cling onto them at every step. This market is definitely not for the claustrophobic. You will find yourself jostling for space amidst the thousands who visit the market. When you visit the market, ensure that you safeguard your valuables and your little ones. In case you drop anything, then please don’t stop or bend over to pick it up. Why I say this is because…. well… you know… forget it, I cannot explain it. Just take my word and don’t bend over to pick up anything! This market is for the bargain hunters. If you cannot bargain, then please accompany someone who can do it for you.
Having given you a fair idea of where the market is and some basic ground rules, let me get into details of what is sold in this market. To begin with this is the place where women folk of all ages can buy their local fashion accessories. Foremost amongst them are glass bangles. Seeing bangles of all kinds of colors and sizes are a sight by itself. Then comes the ear rings; chains; anklets; hair clips; hair bands; blah blah blah. I always wondered when my wife would get bored of buying such stuff in such markets. However, now that we have two daughters, this wont of hers has only increased. I always remain a silent bystander at such stalls [at all the stalls actually] until I have to pay the money or in some cases until the vendor embarrasses me by asking me to intervene and convince my wife that he cannot reduce the price anymore. Along with these ladies stuff, you will also find clothes for all gender and ages. It being winter time, sweaters and jackets are more common however. Shoes and other footwear can also be found aplenty. You will not get a Reebok, but maybe a Redbok T-Shirt! And if you are lucky you will get a pair of Neki shoes with the trademark swoosh. Now there is no one to sue these poor souls… so just soak in the fun and buy what you want.
Moving from what-women-want, the next most popular items on sale are those that you will need in your house. This can be all kinds of cutlery; cookers; utensils; knives; ladles; spatulas; drapes; covers; buckets; flower vase; decorative stuff; lights; etc etc. If you want to equip your home [new or otherwise] and don’t care much about brands then this is the perfect place to be. Of course there is no warranty on any of these items… but if you are good at detecting poor quality, I am sure you will get what you want.
And then comes toys for infants and children. The toys themselves will not last for more than a week. This time around I got a Rubix cube for my elder daughter which lasted all of 30 seconds! But then if you go there with children, I am sure you will not like to disappoint them. Off late I see that you even get some creative stuff like jigsaw puzzles; painting kits; books for infants and the like. Balloons and plastic balls are very common. Flutes, improvised violins and other musical instruments are usually big hits. The guy selling these plays the most popular Bollywood song of the season with ease. This entices kids to buy them and then they realize that it is not as easy as it was. Ours being a cricket hungry nation, plastic cricket bats endorsed by Dhoni, Kholi or Sachin are also omnipresent. A few stalls will also have games or rides for children. Miniature giant-wheels and carousals attract many children. You could even try shooting balloons and throwing small hoops at objects. Don’t think about winning these games… neither have I won them till date nor have I seen anyone win it. With all of this, in short this is a paradise of sorts for children.
A special mention is due for a couple of stalls that specialize in predicting your future. In the past it used be an erudite looking man inferring your fortunes reading your palm or with a help of a parrot and a few cards. I never understood how he does this and more importantly how one could believe in these sorts of things. However times have advanced and now we all know that artificial intelligence is ruling the roost all over. True to this change the fortune tellers have also adapted. Nowadays I see a toy robot, about 2 feet tall, predicting one’s fortunes. The first time I saw this, I could not help laughing out loud. But yes this robot with LED lights glowing all over its body gives you a neat print out of what to expect in the future. Unbelievable!!! I just wish Satya Nadella or Sundar Pichai get access to this technology.
The last big thing where there are so many people is of course food. You will find many stalls selling all kinds of food… I have never seen anything non-vegetarian. Not sure why though. Puffed rice; peanuts; corn; all kinds of chat; dry fruits; sugarcane juice; cotton candy; goli soda; … the list can go on and on. Try any of them or all of them at your own risk.
For a few years now, a new addition is a LIVE performance at Doddikunta Circle. A big stage is setup and artists show case the vibrant culture of Karnataka in the form of songs and dances. Glad to see some enthusiasts doing their best for this state and its language.
This is what the Cox Town New Year’s flea market is all about. What surprises me is the regularity of the market. Till date I have never seen any advertisements about the event. But come 1st of January, this flea market will be there for sure. The closest competitors, which I have seen, are the flea markets at Ulsoor and Seppings Road during their respective chariot festivals. Even Russel Market hosts such an event during Christmas. But trust me; these are mere shadows when compared to what happens at Cox Town.
After spending nearly two hours at the market this year, we headed home wondering how many more years this nostalgia will last. This year, my children were especially happy with the key chains they purchased in the market. Their respective key chains had a single grain of rice on which their names were written. Such simple pleasures of life!