-Can you give me one kilo of those onions?
-You should take one and half, these are really good.
-But you have priced them very high!
-Let me give you one and a half, you won't find them next week.
-Little snippets of conversation from my local hatia.
The hatia had been such an integral part of my growing up in Bokaro. The hatia or haat is a biweekly market, mainly selling fresh vegetables and fruits, but almost selling everything you can think of for your everyday use- from seeds and clothes to brooms and utensils.
It was only after I came to Delhi, since I was also used to daily markets in Kolkata that I realized Hatias are not as normal as I had assumed them to be. And that it was perfectly normal to buy vegetables in the supermarket.
I remember coming back to Bokaro after about a couple of years in Delhi and going to the Hatia with my dad. And being shocked at the level of camaraderie between the buyer and seller. It was very very normal to have conversations such as "Are you insane for charging 16 rupees a kilo? I won't pay anything more than 13." or "Look at how fresh these beans are, you have to take atleast 1 kilo to do it justice". I remember being indignant when they were bargaining between 16 rupees and 13 rupees, but my dad explains there is a rhyme to it, and people actually enjoy it. At some places, the sellers said there was no way they could reduce the prices, in some shops we got more vegetables than we would need, and in some other we got little discounts of 2-3 rupees. All accompanied by a lot of banter.
We would also meet random other people from the city, with one-liners such as, 'the brinjals being sold at the end of this lane are really fresh' or 'they don't have any good fish today'. There would be cows walking among the people, and trying to steal a cabbage or some other leaves for dinner, and people constantly shooing them away. There would be younger boys selling all kinds of leaves- from spinach to coriander, and older women with seasonal vegetables. Many would come from Purulia, and other nearby parts of West Bengal to sell their produce.
All in all, it was a lively half an hour to a quarter of an hour, every Wednesdays and Saturday, all throughout my childhood. And I never knew what special vegetables or fish would bought, since it all depended on the quality and the price of that day's hatia.
And this February when I visited the Hatia after maybe 3 years, I could still see familiar faces, and one of the regular potato sellers asked me where I was and what I was doing nowadays. I said I was in Spain. He asked if it was in America. And I said it was closer to England. And we shared smiles without exchanging names or formal niceties.
And this made me remember of all the times in Barcelona when I would visit the Pakistani or the Bangladeshi owned green groceries stores, and would get free chilies or coriander or ginger, over discussing how many years have we not been in our respective countries.
I realized I had tried to unconsciously find the heart of Hatia, and fleetingly found it in the heart of Barcelona, in the little streets of Raval, in the corner shops of Sant Antoni, and the late night department stores selling samosas at 3am in the morning.
And I was leaving the hatia, I was almost reminiscing this oft-familiar quote on the price of chili which I couldn't hear anymore. And I was consoling myself thinking it has been so many years, maybe the chilies are not that cheap anymore, till I heard-
मिर्चा में भारी गिरावट !
And left with a smile on my face, happy that some things never change.