The damp soil , the persistant drizzle and the less intense rays makes it ideal for farmers to grow crops that thrive in well hydrated soil. Determined to follow in their footsteps , I went scouting for organic sprouted small onions for sowing. My search led me to the weekly market at Sulur ,referred to as the ‘Sulur santhai’.While a visit has been on my mind for awhile,I hadn’t followed up on that idea, until now.
The directions were specific. I was told to take a left turn at the Sulur police station and the shandy would be just a few hundred meters away. The journey took less time than I thought and on first sight,the weekly shandy was all that I imagined it would be ! The whole space was colourful and bustling with an urgency as traders and visitors went about their chores.
Long and short poles of various heights held up temporary roofs made of tarpaulin or thatch ,all positioned in a manner to shield the sellers from the intense rays of the morning sun. Curious glances were thrown at me as I passed each stall .I was pointed to the farthest end to go look for the onion sellers. The onion sellers are many, each try to outbid the other with raised voices and attractive deals. I was looking for small onions of the traditional variety and I was sad to find only one trader who sold them, the others sold only hybrids. The one thing that surprised all of them was that I spoke fluent Tamil and that was all the excuse they needed to ply me with a myriad questions regarding my whereabouts and profession. Having made a satisfactory deal ,the small sack of onions were quickly loaded onto my vehicle.
All the while that I was bargaining with the onion seller,many of the elderly vegetable vendors were watching the exchange with unconcealed amusement. I was obviously not a regular and all eyes were on me to see what I would buy next. When I pulled out my camera to get a few pictures of the vibrant market place ,they burst out laughing. Vanity is most definitely a womanly virtue ! While the men happily posed despite their cosmetic shortcomings ,the women adjusted their sarees, looked for combs and a few even grumbled that they hadn’t made up their eyes with kajal or bothered to powder their faces ! They scoffed in disbelief upon my insistence that they looked just fine !
As I walked around looking for traditional produce , I was saddened to see that only a scant few sold the vegetables of the area. Some country yams , wild broad beans and rain fed greens were the only things that suggested that it was a village shandy. For the most part , carrots , potatoes , cauliflower and beans dominated the vegetable section. When I remarked on this observation ,the woman selling the nattu avarai told me that soon most people will have no idea of locally grown ingredients leave alone how to cook them.
The fruit and vegetable sellers share space with people selling other wares too. Next to the heap of greens , sat an old man with a display of turmeric smeared baskets of many sizes and dried grass brooms. These were a quintessential part of households back in the day before the plastic invasion. I know where to go next when my basket at home needs replacing. A weekly regular is the dried fish seller. This delicacy called ‘karuvadu’ in the vernacular is not for the sensitively sensed… the aroma packs quite a punch and the die hard karuvadu fans swear that the taste is like no other… I hope to work up to tasting it sometime in the future.
Once I finished my buying for the day , I spied one of my favourite ingredients. ;groundnuts in their shell. A childhood snack is to boil with salt ,peel and eat when still warm. These I found were not plain but roasted with the skin on. On snapping them open all the smoke trapped in during the roasting gets released and you are treated to the taste of delicious crunchy smoked nuts. I had to bring back a kilo to satisfy my nutty cravings !
The knife vendor was the last on my way out. Metal bowls from Perundurai , sickles from Puliampatti and sambrani (benzoin resin incense) cups from Podanur were all prominently displayed. Across the road they even had a small display of glass bangles and shiny locks of all sizes. It was obvious that a weekly trip to a market of this kind was designed to stock up on all the immediate necessities required for simple rural dwelling. I can’t help but be fascinated by it all . This unique atmosphere makes it a fun outing for a school field trip….lots to learn and be grateful for , that urban living otherwise takes for granted !
Amidst the various stalls selling anything from jasmine to arappu (for the hair) what struck me was that this santhai actually serves as an outing for many of these folk. Between their sales , they stretch their feet out , catch up on local gossip ,make pleasantries about the weather and I even overhead a conversation cursing the mobile phone ! A visit here is definitely worth your while.