Chronicling KR Market

These photographs describe my journey to KR Market (Krishna Rajendra Market) and the different things I saw and experienced. All the photographs are taken by me using my cell phone. The pictures have been post processed up to a certain extent. The photographs were taken on 26th February 2017.

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Although KR Market is situated only three kilometres from where I live, I had never had the opportunity to visit this place. One of my friends sent me a link to an event which was happening in the so-called KR Flower Market. I had seen pictures of this place but didn’t have any idea as to what it was really like. Taking an auto, I was whisked away to a place which was different from the Bengaluru I usually got to see. Away from all the glass structures and multinational IT companies, KR Market was a place that was disorganised. This was the first word that came to my mind. Honking buses, auto rickshaws slithering down around like cockroaches, people crossing the road without any kind of warning sign, flyovers spanning overhead and the indefinite noise; this was how KR Market welcomed me. The weather was searing and as I got out of the auto, I saw people bustling around me, the big white mosque to my right, a big red building to my left, traffic policemen trying to regulate the traffic, buses still honking and Google Maps shutting down unexpectedly. I started walking towards this mysterious KR Flower Market.

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Taking directions from a boy who was selling vegetables, I came to know that the Flower Market was in a building behind the red building. Crossing the road, I entered this huge complex which had numerous shops which sold mainly two commodities i.e. hardware items and flowers. I asked another guy as to where the courtyard of the Flower Market was and he told me to walk down the corridors and take a left. KR Market took me back to Chowk Bazaar in Tezpur. Narrow lanes with shops on both sides but the only difference here were that almost all these shops sold flowers. There were shops selling varying types of jasmine that are usually used to make gajra along with garlands and other flowers. The air had an odour which resembled the mixture of several different flowers, pungent but somehow choking at the same time. After walking a few more steps, I could hear the sound of drums beating in the distance. I knew that my destination was nearing and I followed the sound.

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The drum beats grew louder as I approached the courtyard of the flower market. It was a huge open space where flowers were being sold on all four sides. There was a crowd gathered around near a tall pillar where a mural had been unveiled. Beneath the mural was four men drumming djembes in a much pepped up beat and hands were raised recording the performance. Inching a bit closer into the crowd, I heard the sound of someone playing the flute as well and saw a woman dancing. The courtyard had baskets full of flowers, placed in huge mounds. Red, orange, violet, pink, it was a spectacular display of colour. A kind I had never seen before and which left me in awe. People around me were clicking pictures, whistling and craning their necks. People on the second and third floors of the building were peering down at the performers, hooting and whistling occasionally. A few customers roamed around, checking flowers to buy while there were a few groups who were silently weaving garlands. A few foreigners were astounded by what was happening around them. This place was alive with activity!

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I decided to go upstairs to get a bird’s eye view. And this is what I saw

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Hardware shops adorned the first and the second floor of the entire complex. And most of these shops sold drilling machines. There were shops selling pumps, bathroom fittings, electronic items, tools and hardware, even steel and aluminium utensils but drilling and drilling repair shops outnumbered everything else. Somehow, this gave an industrial edge to the whole place. These shops stayed away from the flower shops and were creating a contrasting dimension within the whole place.

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I decided to leave the courtyard and decided to explore the other parts of the market. Never in my life did I know that selling flowers can be such a big business idea. There were people who were feeding entire families just by engaging in this business and the daily transaction that happened created a lot of revenue. What was even more interesting was the variety of flowers one could find in this place. It included everything from roses to jasmines, crossandras, barlerias and much more. I couldn’t help but think about where these flowers came from, where were they grown and how they were available on such a large scale. On asking a bystander I came to know that most of these flowers came from the area along the Mysuru – Bengaluru highway. Another observation which I gathered was that this business was mostly run by the Muslim community. A few men nearby were weaving garlands. I decided to take a photograph of them but one guy sitting in the middle told me not to do so because they were doing a ‘religious process’, which shouldn’t be disturbed. A few others sitting beside him laughed but they were too engrossed to look up at what was happening.

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KR Market is one of the few remaining places in Bengaluru which has been untouched by modernity. This place would call me back again because in the midst of all the people and the grime and the sweat lies a raw, unpolished sense of something old and ancient. To an outsider like me, it shows Bengaluru’s past and the way this past has been preserved. Just beside KR Market lies Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace and Bangalore Fort; the walls of which are still standing to this day. As I was leaving the market, someone got mango juice in a tray for 30 rupees. My body demanded something to cool itself down. Standing near the stairs, I saw this guy selling paan, a commodity which is as important in Assam as sambhar is in Bengaluru. KR Market reminds me of my home in varying ways and I will be coming back soon.

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On Raksha Bandhan

There was one occasion every year which my sister devotedly followed and that was Raksha Bandhan. I remember her waking up earlier than usual on those days, taking a quick bath and arranging the thali. As I came out of the bathroom, she used to stand ready with a lighted diya, a rakhi, a bit of tika, some flowers with rice and some sweet, mostly a rosgolla. She used to wear a churidar on those days, tie her hair up and put some kajal. Mother stood close by as she did the aarti by doing the whole ‘thali in a circular motion’ in front of my face. There was something in that warm glow from the diya which stayed with me for a long time. The rakhi stayed on my wrist till the end of the day. Afterwards, we used to hurry off to school. I never gave her anything as a gift for quite a long time. I felt kind of shy in front of her during those days; mostly because this was too much of sudden sibling love and it was unlike us because we used to fight with each other all the time.

My earliest memory of gifting her something goes back to 6th grade. By that time, I had gathered knowledge that one is supposed to give something to his sister during Raksha Bandhans. TV ads and the fact that my sister got gifts from her bro-zoned classmates made me realise that. I gifted my sister a chocolate that year and I remember the Cadbury Celebrations that she got from some classmate-turned-brother in school. I followed this never-seen-before box all the way to the refrigerator and hoped earnestly that she would share it with me. She did share but she consumed most of its contents herself. My tiny 20 rupee Dairy Milk seemed inferior against that large cache of chocolates. By the next year, she had moved out of Tezpur for her higher studies to Guwahati and things changed a lot. There were no early morning aartis anymore but instead, the rakhis started arriving by post, with a hand written letter in the envelope. I received the first letter of my life in 7th grade written by her using sketch pens. This was also very unlike of her and I was surprised that she wrote something for me. Needless to say, I felt very special and for the first time, sensed that someone was actually missing me. I mentally did somersaults and blushed as I read that letter which was filled with a sort of sibling love that I hadn’t experienced before. Her words conveyed a lot than her physical presence ever did. It said all the things we could never say to each other verbally and it made her absence all the more profound. I felt that the letter deserved a reply and I wrote and posted one, tried my best to convey everything that I was feeling and mentioned that we will talk more over the phone and share things from now on. I promised her over the phone that I will gift her something when she comes home during the vacations.  The next year, I received a similar package and I decided to act mature. I asked my sister over the phone as to what gift she wanted this time. I had saved a bit of money by now as I was ‘old enough’ to handle money on my own. She told me that she wanted an eyeliner and a few good nail polish bottles. I didn’t have any knowledge about cosmetics so I had to confirm which colour of nail polish she preferred. After getting an idea of everything, I went to the market on my own to buy the same. Mom didn’t know what was happening. It was the first time I was buying cosmetics for someone so it took me a while to figure out which brand to get and what Lakme Colossal Kajal actually was. I gave her gift when she came home during her Autumn Break and she was happy with the nail polish colours I chose. I felt glad as a level of competence flashed on my face.  My mom gave me surprised looks because I had managed to do everything so discreetly.

This tradition continued till 10th grade, although the length of those letters decreased to the size of a note. By then she had moved to Bangalore and the rakhis took more time to arrive by post. Instead of me giving her gifts every year, she made sure that the parcel contained not only a rakhi but a small gift as well. There was a t-shirt one time and when she wasn’t able to include one with the rakhi, she made sure she got something on her visits during the vacations. Each time I made the same promise of yeah, I will give you the gift when you come home. By the time I had reached 12th grade, I already had three years’ worth of pending rakhi gifts that I was supposed to give her. That backlog lives to this very day.

Truth be told, I have seldom protected my sister from anything and over the last year, Raksha Bandhan isn’t the same for me anymore. I understand the essence of a sibling connection but I am so not okay with the whole brother-protecting-sister thing. My sis has protected herself just fine all these years so why follow some tradition just because our history and parents tell us to? For issues involving family and parents, I have covered up for her, more so in recent years. She has protected me equally but more than that she has been a guiding post and that matters a lot more for me. Last week when she told me to meet up as she wanted to give me the rakhi in advance, the feminist in me was in a conflicting position. I texted her saying that I don’t want the rakhi as I do not comply with the tradition behind Raksha Bandhan anymore. I told her that should a case arise, I would be there to ‘protect’ and support her in all ways possible and that a thread wasn’t necessary to make sure that happened. I used sentences like “patriarchal traditions” and “why are we still doing this”.  She agreed with what I was trying to say but she urged me to understand that this was something she wanted to do, regardless of what history or tradition says about it. I was glad to see that she took this tradition for what it is meant to be, a bond between siblings. That’s all. She didn’t want to break the bond which was created well before I was in 6th grade and I couldn’t say no to that either.

Actually, I feel like I should tie a rakhi on her wrist as well.

 

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Me and my sister c. 1998

 

This Malayalam Film Will Enrage You For All The Right Reasons

I vividly remember the end scene of the film “Ka Bodyscapes” that was being shown at the Bangalore Queer Film Festival (BQFF) 2016. Just as I entered the dark auditorium at Alliance Française de Bangalore,  the screen showed a man walking gradually towards the sea before disappearing out of sight as the sound of crashing waves resounded the room and the screen turned black. I checked the pamphlet that I had in my hand and looked for a name. “Ka Bodyscapes, Malayalam, 1h 30 mins,” it read. For some reason, I wanted to know what the film was about. But I couldn’t at that time.

Now that I have watched the movie, I tend to believe that I was meant to watch it. Call it fate or give it some other name, I am glad I got the chance. This film by Jayan K. Cheriyan has been fighting for a certification without any cuts from the CBFC for the past two and a half years. The movie has been screened privately in film festivals and has won immense praise and accolades, but hasn’t seen a formal release in this country.

One of the things that I loved in this movie is the absence of background music of any sort, except in the final scene before the credits roll out. It has comparatively few dialogues as well and is presented in a very raw, almost amateurish form when it comes to camera panning and the shift in scenes. Due to the content and ideology of the film, a prior statutory announcement was made before the screening, informing everyone that certain people with certain ideologies might find the film awkward or disturbing and that they can leave any moment they want to. Fortunately, nobody left.

“Ka Bodyscapes” is based in god’s own country, Kerala, in the town of Kozhikode. It primarily focuses on the life of Haris who is an aspiring gay painter, played by actor Jason Chacko and Vishnu, the subject of Haris’ paintings and his lover, played by Kannan Rajan. Along with them are stories revolving the life of Sia, played by Nasreena, who works for a footwear manufacturing company and is a vocal feminist. The film encapsulates a lot of subjects ranging from homophobia to violence against women and the ever infecting patriarchal and right-wing society.

Kerala, as far as I know, is ahead of many states in this country, in terms of education, equal rights for people belonging to different sexualities and everything in between. But the film showcases the conservative side of Kerala, the side which roots for Ghar Wapsi and the need for women to be home before the sun sets. It is a society where cribbing grandmothers with rosary beads wince at the sight of girls washing their feet and do not hesitate from calling them a wench. It is a society where fathers beat up their daughters when they raise their voices against patriarchy and the subjugation and degradation of the female body that it brings with itself. In short, it is a society where love and equality lie at opposite poles.

Haris brings Vishnu to Kozhikode where the latter gets a job as a graphics assistant in his uncle’s right-leaning newspaper Bharatbhoomi. His uncle believes that it is his duty to uphold and save his traditions from going to the dogs and disapproves the idea of Haris and Vishnu living together under one roof. The idea of Vishnu posing as a model for all of Haris’ “naked” paintings ignites him even more. Haris’s place has scores of paintings which he wants to showcase as a part of an art exhibition and he gets a chance to do the same.

A still from the film ‘Ka Bodyscapes’

Sia, his friend who goes by the name of ‘Sia Rational’ on Facebook is a strong advocate of female body rights but is subjected to daily criticism from her conservative Muslim family. She works under a misogynist, condescending boss. Things get bad when this repulsive boss finds bloodied pads in the factory washrooms and tells the female supervisor to take care of the culprit. The supervisor questions all of the workers but to no avail. This is when she grabs one of Sia’s friends and drags her to the washroom for a strip search. The ordeal ends with Sia coming to the girl’s rescue and resorts to calling the police. The police do not take any action, obviously.

Sia along with Haris and a few of their friends decide to stage a protest while Vishnu decides to stay out of it due to its risky nature. Sia Rational ends up putting a Facebook profile picture of her bloodied sanitary pad after which they organise a roadside protest with slogans of “My body, my choice”. While some goons wait on the other side of the road with batons and swords, the police intervene. This entire incident is based on a real-life. What happens next should be discovered by watching the film.

The film is supposed to enrage you and it is successful in doing so. If you do not feel angry for the right reasons, you are not thinking rationally. Amidst all of that, you feel a certain form of helplessness, a very weak state of mind as you begin to realise how inconsiderate and close minded we are as a society and as people in general. You would feel the need to shout as you absorb the frustration and anger that the characters in the film go through while their worlds crash down, frame after frame. And this is reality, simple and unadulterated.

Many of us choose to be inside our cubicles, we don’t want to look at things and get our mind “dirty”. Many of us talk about same-sex marriages and equality but I think all of that is too distant for us. We live in times when misogynists feel disgusted at the sight of bloodied sanitary pads and when freedom of expression in the form of art is abhorred. We live in times when religious intolerance is met with death and centres to cure homosexuality operate in full bloom.

The despair that follows after watching a film like “Ka Bodyscapes” lives on for a long time, not because of what happens in the end of the movie but because of how there can never be a world where the need to make a film like this would ever arise.

P.S. If you want to catch a screening of Ka Bodyscapes, there is a screening on 5th August, 2017 at the same venue. Do follow Urban Solace on Facebook for more info.