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Kolkata Night Bazaar outside New Market… if only we had one!

A home-and-the-world proposal to turn the pedestrian plaza outside New Market into a nocturnal hub for tourists and residents

Iftekhar Ahsan | Published 26.04.22, 06:11 PM
New Market — the ideal location for a night bazaar in Kolkata

New Market — the ideal location for a night bazaar in Kolkata

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In Chiang Mai, they mesmerised us with their handicrafts.
In Tokyo, we gorged on delectable doner kebabs.
In London, we bought posters.
And in Berlin, we fell in love with the fresh tiramisu the old lady offered.

What made the experiences more memorable was the time and the setting — bazaars where tourists could indulge their legitimate fancies after sundown.

Most cities across the world, worth their brand as tourist hubs, have nocturnal markets that pamper visitors when the usual sites mentioned in travel brochures would be closed. 

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They are good for the economy too as they give travellers the scope to have fun — and spend a few dollars.

These night markets around the world offer an incredible diversity in terms of craft and cuisine, along with competitive pricing. At the night market in Ayutthaya, Thailand, for instance, we came across a lady selling sushi for 10 baht apiece. I had to be dragged away from that stall. (1 Thai baht = Rs 2.25)

Fresh and cheap sushi at the Ayuthaya Night Market, Thailand

Fresh and cheap sushi at the Ayuthaya Night Market, Thailand

When we visited the night market in Chiang Mai, another of Thailand’s tourist hubs, it was captivation of a different kind — the collection of handicrafts was simply stunning.

At the night market in Tokyo, we found pet cafes and dollar stores (shops that sell a wide range of inexpensive items) and feasted on doner kebabs.

In a night market in Cambodia, we saw artists immersed in their art right in front of customers and then selling their work. We still use a hammock we bought there.

Handcrafted Japanese dolls at the Tokyo Night Market

Handcrafted Japanese dolls at the Tokyo Night Market

In Berlin, we bought fresh tiramisu, a coffee-flavoured dessert, from an old lady. It tasted far better than any bought from stores.
In London, I discovered a wonderful collection of anti-establishment posters and even bought some.

So, why not have a Kolkata Night Bazaar?

Around the world, night markets have enough attractions for all types of tourists, from people with a discerning palate to those who appreciate art and craft, and especially for folks like me; nocturnal souls who love these places. Kolkata does offer some informal and organic experiences, in the form of freshly made litti at Nimtala Ghat, steamed chai at Balwant Singh Dhaba outside the Sant Kutiya Gurdwara and kebabs in and around Zakaria Street and Colootola, to name a few. 

A stall on Zakaria Street

A stall on Zakaria Street

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But a city as beautiful and culturally rich as ours does not have a night market that can cater to visitors with varied preferences. One might come across an impromptu and informal night market around the Sudder Street and Marquis Street neighbourhood but it is unregulated, crass and hardly represents the many nuances of the city.
So, why not have a Kolkata Night Bazaar?
Call it a proposal, or a plea to the authorities, but surely, the city has enough places where an authorised nocturnal bazaar can be set up?
Say, for instance, in the area outside New Market. That should be an ideal location.

Call it a proposal, or a plea to the authorities, but surely, the city has enough places where an authorised nocturnal bazaar can be set up?

Call it a proposal, or a plea to the authorities, but surely, the city has enough places where an authorised nocturnal bazaar can be set up?

If I were given a free hand in curating it, I would love to grab the opportunity and implement the gazillion ideas that rush through my head while visiting night markets around the world. 

Imagine the New Market pedestrian plaza as a magic night mart

If the New Market pedestrian plaza is declared as Kolkata Night Bazaar, the best of Kolkata’s artists and artisans can be involved and asked to create, display and sell their art and craft. The city does not really have an ecosystem of souvenirs in spite of drawing so many visitors; so this could be our chance. Think about it.

A crowded morning at New Market

A crowded morning at New Market

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Imagine what it might be like. Those adept at cooking, but whose talents have seldom been recognised, could churn out culinary delights and offer their fresh, healthy and tasty fare at the bazaar, the dishes free of flavour enhancers like monosodium glutamate (MSG) and colour additives. Imagine walking down the plaza and wondering what to choose — from fresh Chinese tofu, authentic Anglo-Indian meatball curry, yummy Odiya chhena poda, Jewish delicacies and Japanese Nama chocolates!

A food stall at a night market in Thailand

A food stall at a night market in Thailand

A multi-faceted cultural hub for the city and its admirers

 

Musicians could come and perform live and unplugged. This is something that no market or street in the city offers yet, so the nocturnal bazaar could be their training ground. Theatre practitioners and dancers could have a platform to showcase their work, the productions sponsored by various corporations of the city.

Regular book readings and book launches, in keeping with a tradition of the city and its predilection for matters intellectual, could be another feature of these nocturnal resonances, with hand-crafted jewellery, portraits and exquisite pottery completing the aesthetic appeal. 

One reason night bazaars might work for Kolkata is that temperatures would be more bearable then, far more comfortable than the daytime heat and humidity.

To sum up then, the night bazaar could be a multi-faceted cultural hub for the city and its admirers, from 8pm to 12 midnight on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The timings can be extended or reduced, depending upon the response, and of course after taking into account the views of people who live in the neighbourhood.

No reason for tourism cash registers to stop ringing after sunset

If Kolkata wants to attract more tourists, especially the well-heeled, it definitely needs more attractions, and a night market might just be that extra allure. The stupendous success of the Singapore Night Safari has shown that there’s no reason for tourism cash registers to stop ringing after sunset. 

The Kolkata Night Bazar, anyone?

Iftekhar Ahsan is a Calcutta tragic; hopelessly in love with this metropolis, warts and all. He is also the founder of Calcutta Walks and Calcutta Bungalow

Last updated on 26.04.22, 06:11 PM
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