A couple weekends ago, the USAC group took a little field trip to some major religious spots in Bangalore. Our first stop was at St. Mary's Basilica. Across the street was a large market. After we finished taking pictures of the church, we decided to explore the market.
In the beginning, it was just a normal market. People set up little stands with fruits, vegetables, and flowers to sell to the public. Nothing too special. The only odd thing was that we became a sort of tourist attraction. Many of the students were taking pictures of all the little stands, and we noticed that there was a scattered crowd of people around us and they were using their cell phones to take pictures of us while we were taking pictures. That was new, and odd, but nothing too scary. We moved on and walked deeper into the market. In the beginning, it actually reminded me a lot of Pike Place Market. There were big stands of fish and when you walked down the street, you could smell them long before you saw them. It was a nice reminder of home. I kept waiting for someone to throw a fish, but was disappointed.
Something I noticed about Indian markets is that while their meats might be fresh, they won't stay fresh for long. We rarely saw any ice or ways to refrigerate the fish and meat. That accounts for some of the smell and doesn't exactly make my mouth water.
Next, we went into the meat market. We were told it is best to just leave our cameras in our bags for that stretch. Parts of the meat market are fine, but if you pass anyone selling beef, they get really pissy about people taking pictures of them. They have been known to throw a bone or two at nosy tourists with cameras. So I kept my camera in my bag. I don't think it is anything any of you would want to see anyways. We walked in and saw rows and rows of what looked like sheep. They were skinned and gutted, and the corpses were left hanging off of hooks on a conveyor belt. Again, no refrigeration, no covers, the workers didn't even wear hair nets or booties. Not very appetizing. I'm pretty sure they don't slaughter the goats and sheep there and it is illegal to slaughter cows in Karnataka, so we didn't have to see that part of the whole process. We did see a few shops selling chicken and duck though. There are dozens of cages outside the shops, each one packed with chickens, ducks, and even the occasional goose. They slaughter, pluck, and gut the birds right there. If you don't watch out, your shoes will get a little dirty. The vegetarians were, of course, indignant. The rest of us were just a bit grossed out. I am well aware of where meat comes from, I just don't want to see it.
When we left the meat market, we were greeted by the sweet relief of the produce market. The flower stands are beautiful. Huge flower garlands hang from the ceiling and you can see almost every kind of flower. The owners kept handing us little flowers to put in our hair. The fruit stands are so nice. Everything looks perfect and smells so good. There are piles of melons, apples, oranges, kiwis, bananas, and the more exotic fruits of India. Even thinking about it makes me crave fruit.
I think the part of the market that disturbed me most was not the meat market or the poultry shops. It was the pet shop. When we first walked up, I saw birds and thought it was a more exotic poultry shop. Our resident director told us it was a pet shop, but Americans would call it a pet mill. Wire cages were stacked on top of each other, each holding multiple cats, dogs, rabbits, or birds. One cage had six or seven puppies that weren't even old enough to open their eyes yet. They were all crying and yelping and I didn't know how to feel. Part of me loved seeing so many cute little faces, but the other part of me knew that this wasn't right. None of those animals were living in proper conditions. I also noticed that they were all babies. There wasn't a single adult cat or dog in the group. What happens when these animals grow up and aren't sold? Part of me was happy that these animals were being given a chance at a good life. There are so many animals on the streets here that it is good to see that maybe these animals will find a home and a family to love them. The other part of me wonders if growing up crowded in those cages is any better than growing up on the street. All I know is that I want to go back and buy a kitten and/or a puppy just to get them out of the cage and stop them from crying.
So, Indian markets are not necessarily the delight that you might have thought they were, Anthony. They are an interesting experience and show the Indian mind-set when it comes to food. Indians tend to prefer freshness while Americans prefer to be in the dark when it comes to where their food comes from.