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“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;”
(As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7)

The quoted lines, written by Shakespeare somehow, explain the cycle of our life. We are born and then we die. But it’s the “in between” where we actually live. We’re actors of the play called ‘Life’ and we go though different roles; we portray different emotions. And for most of our time’s duration, we are viewed as a person with one dominant trait, with one way of living and coping with the magnificence and the absurdities of life.

However, we are complex human beings who find themselves in different situations and deal with them differently. But, the problem lies in the fact that as an individual one is able to see the complexities of one’s own life but is seldom able to understand and appreciate the complexities of fellow human beings. Okhla Mandi is not our regular local fruits and vegetable market (sabzi mandi). It is a place of high activity and economic exchange. It all begins with trucks coming in full of fruits and vegetables at night and throughout the morning. These are then unloaded and the wholesalers keep an account of how much goes where and is sold at what price.

Fresh supply comes in late at night or early morning.
Fresh supply comes in late at night or early morning.

The business of these wholesalers is not only restricted to the mandi, but their products are also sold to various restaurants and bakeries. Many of these vendors book orders for weddings and parties as well. For example, supplies worth Rs 1,00,000 is provided to French Bakery Pvt. Ltd in sector-2, Noida on a monthly basis by a vendor in the Okhla Mandi.

Most vendors enjoy their business of selling fruits and vegetables.
Most vendors enjoy their business of selling fruits and vegetables.

The time I’ve spent at the Okhla Sabzi Mandi has given me an insight into the lives of those who are in and around the place. It was like I was an audience to their stage production and in due time, I could find myself going in deeper and understanding the different characters involved. It took multiple trips to the place to be able to see myself as a new character being introduced to the plot.

A little girl leads the way into the mandi
A little girl leads the way into the mandi
Everyone is welcome here at the Okhla Sabzi Mandi
Everyone is welcome here at the Okhla Sabzi Mandi

My first trip to the Mandi was with my classmates and professor for a photo walk. On that day, all I could feel was chaos. There was business going on and there were twenty other people there to photograph the same place. I could feel the pressure and thus failed to deliver a fresh perspective. There was a charm in the chaos – something that made me go back. And, so I did. This time I went alone and I went as my own self, with an objective to understand who these people are behind the scenes of the sabzi mandi.

A top shot of the Okhla Sabzi Mandi
A top shot of the Okhla Sabzi Mandi

My aim had slowly become to break down the seeming chaos into varying energies flowing together in one place.

They play roles of vendors, of truck drivers, of whole sellers etc. But, behind the scenes, they are real people with a wide range of emotions. They are quirky, they are fun and energetic. Yet, at the same time, they become silent, brooding and on some occasions even sad and frustrated.

Playful moments between the vendors
Playful moments between the vendors
Sometimes the job gets frustrating
Sometimes the job gets frustrating
There is love all around
There is love all around
But, sometimes it gets lonely
But, sometimes it gets lonely
Vendors taking a little break to chat
Taking a little break to chat
A not so often seen ear cleaner in the mandi.
A not so often seen ear cleaner in the mandi.
A truck driver cleaning his truck
A truck driver cleaning his truck

At the end of this all, I realized that perhaps, I was their subject as they were mine. Maybe throughout this journey of photography, they wanted to understand this girl who’d come to talk to them and click their pictures. We’d often talk about our lives over tea. They spoke about their family and business while I talked about my hectic student life.

Brotherhood in the area
Brotherhood in the area

And, in the end, I too was photographed

And, in the end, I too was photographed
They wave goodbye with a picture of the photographer

Arunima Gururani is a student of AJK Mass Communication Research Center, Jamia Millia Islamia in MA Convergent Journalism.

  • K SHESHU BABU

    People from all walks of life visit ‘ sabzi ‘ mandis. This photo essay reflects the various facets of life where petty vendors are involved. The vegetable sellers toil hard to gather vegetables and sell them through out daytime. The group of photos represent wide range of situations in the market.