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The Forty Minutes of Bhaji Mandai

Poonam, like many parents, thinks her daughter is a ruined teenager who just sits at home and uses the phone all day. And for Poonam, taking her daughter to a ‘bhaji-mandi’ (Vegetable Market) is an accomplishment that she can brag about. And her daughter likes to accompany her. Carrying all the weight and letting Poonam walk freely is the accomplishment her daughter thinks she can brag about. Her daughter says “Walking to the mandi allows me to be alone with my mom and rant about my day or think to myself.” So since a year ago Poonam and her daughter go to the nearest bhaji mandai together every day.

At around 9:45 pm, Poonam and her daughter leave their house and head over to the mandai.

Poonam, 40 years young, is a typical Indian lady, who spends money wisely. She suggests going to the mandai at late hours, almost when it is about to close. She says “These vendors are human as well. At the end of the day, they wanna go home too! When you go at late hours, they are too tired to sit and finish selling all their vegetables for any longer. They will probably take less money and try to sell everything that is left.”

She is smart indeed! 

This mandai is in Old Sangvi, Pune. Vegetable vendors open up their stalls from four in the evening to ten thirty in the night. The vendors are too busy to answer and fill me in on the details of how and when the mandai started. All they say is, "It is old."

“Don't click a clear picture otherwise people might find out where we live,” said Poonam.

It is a dark lane when Poonam and her daughter leave the house. Most of the streets are empty and quiet. They only encounter a few people who have a healthy habit of walking after eating. Her daughter, Ankita, 17, uses this golden opportunity to start small talks with her mom. And within five minutes of sweet talking they reach the mandai.

“I experience a quieter side of the mandi,” says Ankita.

There are not many people when they reach. Few people spread across the 100m² area. The vendors are also not screaming “Bhaji lelo, bhaji lelo. Tamate lo, flower lo, gavar lo. Tajji tajji bhaji lo.” They are tired. 

Late at night, Screaming is not worth the effort, there are barely any leftover vegetables. Also, people who live nearby complain about the noise. Leave this,  what do you want to buy? Take tomatoes, they are chemical free (gaavran) just for forty rupees per kilogram.” says a vendor.

“You get everything at this mandi,” claims another vendor.

Today, Poonam and Ankita are on a hunt for onions, tomatoes, brinjal, cauliflower and free chillies. They take a round of the whole market place, assess which stall is selling at the least price. Target these shops and go bargain to get vegetables for even less. They get their onions, tomatoes, brinjal and free chillies. Tomatoes 30 per kilo, onion 20 per kilo and Brinjal 30 per kilo with free chillies. 

Poonam and her mother are left to buy cauliflower. There are two stalls that sell cauliflower, one of them had stale cauliflower and the other one was their least liked vendor. They called him “The khadus tamate wala.” (The lout tomato seller). They take a brief while to decide if they should go to him or not and at last decide to go. They greet him with a half smile.

Even after bargaining for five minutes, Poonam failed to get the cauliflower at 40 rupees per kilo.

They leave the stall and make a final round complaining about his behavior.

Ankita says whining “If our Aaji ( Grandmother) would be here she would give us the cauliflower at 30 rupees per kilo! We should come earlier tomorrow.”

“ We spent forty minutes. Time is much more expensive than those vegetables! Better to just order it online mumma”, Ankita teases Poonam.

“You just want to stay home! And be on that phone the whole time. You will go blind one day,” nags Poonam. 

Written by Ankita Mishra

Ankita wrote this article as a participant of the Media-Makers Fellowship's April'24 cohort.

This article was adjudged the 'Best Photo-Essay' created in Week 3 of the program.

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