The night bazaar has no schedule or apparent reason: it is just there some nights and simply not on others. There are no set patterns to it. It could be there every night and then disappear and not return for months and then suddenly start reappearing every 13th night, or on nights in multiples of 3 or 7. It has a fickle personality, I guess. It grows weary of any sort of routine or regimentation.
Still, sitting by the window in the bus, on the way home each evening I try to guess whether today it would be there, waiting for me on the playground where no children play anymore, behind the Purani Abadi – bus stop. Long ago that playground used to be dense and green – a charming forest fit for exploring by a child seven years old. Before the city decided to tear it down – the charm, the magic, the still beauty all vanished. Along with the little explorer it so inspired. Metal swing sets and goal posts took over. Eager feet trampled on it endlessly – almost sacrilegiously for years. Before the city changed its mind and resized it. Now it’s just a dirt patch between two highways. I couldn’t care less for the playground until the night bazaar started appearing nearly a year ago.
There is a faint-warm smell like something deep-fried, riding on the cool evening air for miles in each direction, on “most” nights the bazaar is there. It is not continuous like a seam but rather it comes in puffs like something being pumped. I can smell it in the bus miles away and for a while I could have said that this was a definitive marker for the bazaar’s presence. But I guess it picks up on such things too. The marker proved fickle. Some nights the air is warm with the deep-fried smell but the bazaar is not there. But I swear on each such night, as I get off at the stop and if I squint my eyes a little, I can almost make out the weak outlines of the swooping tents strung upon spear like poles. Frail, sublime, a light grey veil hanging from the fog in the silver light of the moon and the pale yellow headlights of the passing cars.
Far away from the incessant demands of the world the night bazaar exists in its pristine simplicity. I like to stroll through it whenever it appears. Tending to its many tents are simple people, their eyes serene, their faces light unburdened. They never hunger for your patronage but if you do visit them they present their simple store seemingly even before you ask for it. There are always a few customers going about. Here is a tent full off fruits of all colors and kinds, there one full of bundles of cloths – inviting, appetizing. There is a tent for perfumes. Another for spices – red: deep, invigorating – yellow, green, black. Hence tents to the right to the left ahead and behind there are enough tents for one to get lost. Yet not even one deep-frying something.
Business is carried out without the aid of speech, yet the bazaar is not quiet. A wave of noise like that of a crowd follows you around: sometimes ahead, sometimes behind, sometimes rising, sometimes falling, voices of children calling each other out, of women laughing and men talking. You expect to run into them at every turn. But I never have.
Every time I visit the night bazaar I seem to wind down to the dried-fruit tent, which is manned by, I would say my friend but I am not sure if that is actually true. He is nice and friendly but has all the fore bearings of someone I have known since ages yet do not realize or recognize, and despite endless efforts cannot recollect from the moldy crevices of my mind. Yet he is there. Looking at me from his dark eyes in which the flickering flames of the gas lamp twiddle like liquid streams of gold. He could be my brother or a cousin – but maybe not or maybe yes. I don’t know. The keeper of the dried-fruit tent has a black beard that jettisons from his face, curves through a rough –S shape and ends in a sharp point below his chin.
“Tired, are you Sahib,” he says to me. A closed fist stretches the beard, apparently trying to straighten it but as soon as the sharp point leaves his grasp the beard springs back into shape.
“Life is tiring, my friend,” I reply.
“Here have some walnuts then,” he says grasping a handful with one hand and a bag made out of recycled newspaper with the other.
“That is enough,” I say. “Please no more.”
“It is ok, Sahib. They are not expensive. You can pay whatever you so desire,” he says looking up at me. “Even if you don’t it is ok.”
“Why do you sell them so cheap. They are surely worth a lot more. You could make a higher profit.”
“What will I do with that sahib? What I earn is enough.”
“What if you run into rainy days – you could starve…”
“I haven’t till now, sahib. I won’t,” my friend says.
“But how can you be sure?” I ask.
“The same way you are sure that you might – you find what you are looking for, sahib,” he says with a slight smile. “Here take this. Pay what ever you wish.”
The laser like rays of the morning sun has chased away any remnants of the night bazaar as I stand here waiting for the bus. You’d expect the ground to be a little disheveled – from a whole bazaar being there, some garbage, pot-holes – from where the tents were pitched – anything, but nothing.
Only the few walnuts knocking around in my pocket.
Credit: Illustration by M