To market, to market to buy a fat fish!!

Lac Bangles, Bapu Bazaar, Jaipur, Pink City

Art Bazaar, Moscow

I am not an etymologist so anything I say on this subject should be taken with a pinch of salt. As far as I understand, the word Mandi in Hindi means a market place. Mandis are named after the products they sell. So a market selling vegetables, sabzi in Hindi, is referred to as a Sabzi Mandi or Vegetable market. The Mandi often gets extended into a local fair with other sellers occupying nearby spaces and selling street food, trinkets and with entertainment stalls for children. Such Mandis or Fairs are also called Haat or Bazaar in rural areas in India.

While the Hindi meaning of Mandi is a market place, it has different meanings in other languages. Mandi in Malayalam means a foolish girl. “What a Mandi she is following that fool around.” A foolish boy is called a Mandan. It is used in jest in conversations in Malayalam. According to the Wikipedia reference, in Yemen, Mandi is the name of a traditional dish consisting of rice, meat and spices. Now that sounds like the Biriyani! Variations of this dish are found in other Arabic countries as well.

Even as a child I had a great fascination for Mandis. As an Economist, my interest in the informal sector and informal workers attracted me to small market fairs in all cities, even European cities. The Saturday or Sunday market, Mandi in our parlance, is quite common in most European cities even today where a space is designated by the Municipal Corporation for such activities. It is converted into a pedestrian zone for that day. We visited one such Saturday fair or Mandi in Buenos Aires in an area called San Telmo. Besides all kinds of art and consumer products being sold there, expert dancers were dancing the traditional Tango on the streets. There was street food and the atmosphere was festive. In Helsinki I found this wonderful street market, with very colourful stalls just outside the station.

Street market, Helsinki
Chocolate Fudge Mart, Helsinki
Colourful Bags Vendor, Helsinki

In Ireland, we visited the Spidel Crafts and Design Studio in the north Connemara region, close to the coast. What a windy day it was. Each craft studio had its little shop selling these very traditional wares, from candles to wooden furniture, baskets woven from grass weeds. Each of these were design studios that held Workshops for interested persons to learn the craft. We watched a Workshop in progress teaching basket weaving from grass weeds. We discovered that it was really hard work!

Spidel Crafts and Design Studio Market, Ireland

Spidel Furniture Craft Shop, Ireland

Spidel Weaving baskets, Ireland

Spidel Leather Belts, Ireland

Spidel Weaving Woolen Wares, Ireland

In Moscow we observed the most amazing collapsible and drive away street carts. In the most tourist intense place near Kremlin street vendors were selling warm caps, gloves and other winter wear. The place was not cluttered with street vendors and obviously very strict rules applied. The vendors collapsed their shops with all their wares and drove away at the end of the working day!!

Street Vendors in Moscow in amazing drive away carts!
Street Vendors in Moscow, the carts collapse and they drive away!!

As a child I visited the sabzi and fish Mandi in South Kolkata, Calcutta at that time, every week with my mother. My father sat in the car outside and I followed my mother into the Sabzi Mandi. I was always very excited to see and feel the brisk activity, the colours and the smells of the Mandi. We visited various vegetable stalls where my mother was greeted warmly by the vendors, a valued regular customer. She picked up vegetables to her South Indian taste. When we reached the fish Mandi she would not let me enter. It was wet and messy and she did not want me hanging onto her saree “pallu” (the long end of it over her shoulder) while she negotiated the mess and confusion around! The fish Mandi was always a noisier and more chaotic area than the rest of the Mandi, with a lot of screaming and shouting and haggling! Perhaps that is how the common phrase “like a fish market” came about! As I tell my unruly class, “What is this, is it a fish market?” My mother would ask me to stand at the entrance, and I stood there enthralled at the chaos and confusion around! My complaint against my mother till date is that I cannot distinguish or name a fresh fish that I see in the market, or even figure out if it was fresh! I would have if she had let me follow her around in the fish Mandi in Kolkata!

Tender Coconut Vendor, Chennai

A classic Urdu short story titled ‘Aanandi” by Ghulam Abbas became more famous when it was made into a Bollywood movie titled “Mandi”. “Mandi”, a Hindi film produced in 1983, was directed by Shyam Benegal, and had famous actors Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil and Naseerudhin Shah starring in it. It told the story of a Madame of a brothel, Rukminibai, and her flourishing industry, frequently visited by politicians and elite, situated in the central hub of the city of Hyderabad. The film depicts a flourishing market, Mandi. Various trades around the brothel do brisk business, like flower sellers, ‘paan’ betel leaf sellers, other gift items, tea and snack stalls, pimps, ‘dalals’ or brokers of various hues. Rukminibai grows old and is ousted by another younger stronger women and she moves out with an old trusted helper. As she leaves the city, the helper notices a Shiv Lingam on the ground and he calls to Rukminibai. Simultaneously she sees a young prostitute running toward her. With the help of these two faithful accomplices, Rukminibai sets up another brothel on the outskirts of the city and very soon a Mandi grows and flourishes around it again. 

I am not sure that I see any future for the Sabzi Mandi. In fact large grocery stores like Big Bazaar and Reliance Fresh are fast replacing Sabzi Mandis.  The Mandis are likely to disappear from urban cities, though they may continue to flourish in rural areas. The most modern predator of the Sabzi Mandi is the online retail store that provides fruits and vegetables at the door step, like Big Basket. Even the large restaurants and student messes are buying from such online stores for convenience. However, the wider concept of a Mandi, a Bazaar on the streets selling often traditional ware is likely to be an attraction in India and many continents including Europe. 


The word E-chaupal depicts an extension of a market that is technology driven. Chaupal in Hindi means a meeting place in the village. It generally depicts the central square with a large tree under which the village elders meet in the evening and children play all day. It does not necessarily mean a market place. E-chaupal was invented by the ITC Limited to integrate agricultural markets through the internet. It allows the farmers to procure agricultural products and get access to information via the internet. The company installed computers with internet facility in villages to facilitate agricultural marketing and dissemination of information to the farmers.


E-chaupal or other versions of it have a great future in the era of digital technology. The Government of India has started the E-National Agricultural Market, or an electronic trading portal. The idea was to create an integrated market throughout the country for agricultural products. Of course it will no longer be called E-chaupal. It might lose its Indianness and become yet another digital tool being so successfully marketed across the country. This concept of the modern Mandi that is used to sell perishable and other agricultural commodities in wholesale will definitely grow and flourish.


2 thoughts on “To market, to market to buy a fat fish!!

  1. Wow!! Mandi to go to, Mandi to eat and Mandi to live with!! I just discovered that 'Mandi' in Malay means bath/bathe. So going to a 'Mandi' means more than going to market!! Life is full of 'Mandi choices'!! 🙂 🙂 Let mandis grow and prosper!


  2. Reblogged this on Unni-Logs-Travel and commented:

    I enjoy visiting informal markets, hats (in Hindi), market fairs. In this blog I put together informal markets I observed in different parts of the world. Each is unique in its own way.


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