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Kolkata’s night bazaar

Every night at 2.30,a second-hand clothes market comes to life in central Kolkata.

Written by Premankur Biswas |
July 31, 2011 3:33:52 am

Old,mothballed clothes have a distinctive smell. It’s not really unpleasant. It’s familiar and comforting. Around 1.30 a.m.,the air around Girish Park metro station in central Kolkata is thick with that smell. The road itself has been transformed into a giant mattress for Subhas Patel and hundreds like him who have come to this stretch of Kolkata’s busiest district from various corners of the country. Patel is sprawled near a traffic light,with a bundle of old clothes for a pillow,smoking a biri. “The market is yet to come to life. Business starts at 2.30 a.m.,” he says. “Business” for this 28-year-old from Ahmedabad has everything to do with things that most of us choose to discard. For the past 10 years,Patel has regularly sold his ware at Liberty haat,Kolkata’s nighttime second-hand clothes market. “This is the only business I know. My father too would collect used sarees from various parts of the country to sell here,” says Patel.

Since the market is yet to begin,buyers and sellers are in a chatty mood. “We took the afternoon train from Rampurhaat. We will buy sarees from here and sell them in our villages,” says Shabana Bibi,who travels from the moffusil town,a few hours away from Kolkata,every week.

Meanwhile,stacks and stacks of clothes pile up on the pavements of the arterial road. Trucks trundle by even as Salima Ghouse from Shantipur village in West Bengal sets up her stall. “I can’t tell you about others but I make enough to survive,” she says.

Kalicharan Md,a regular at the market for the past 40 years,says he takes home about Rs 250 a day. “In the 1960s,we would sell sarees for 4 annas,now we sell them for Rs 22. We would struggle to provide two proper meals for our children then. The story is same now,” he says.

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Despite being around for years,the haat has no official name. It’s popularly known as “Libbitti haat” after the nearby Liberty cinema that screens

B-grade films. And when it comes to figuring out the exact age of the haat,almost everyone contributes to the haziness—some say it’s close to 30 years old,some says it’s around 70 years old.

Sudipto Mallick,an executive committee member,says the market is about 150 years old. “This area,which is close to Burrabazar,was frequented by tradesmen from Rajasthan and Gujarat. I think they started this haat,” he says.

When asked if the infrastructure of the area could be bettered,Mallick,who quietly makes rounds of the market,says,“If we try to bring in change and order,we will destroy the very character of the place. I don’t think there is such a vibrant market anywhere in the world,” says Mallick.

But Md Salim,who travels all the way from Ranchi (Jharkhand) every week to buy clothes from the haat,would rather have some infrastructure in place. “There are not enough eateries that stay open all night to feed thousands who throng the area. Moreover,during monsoons,we have no shelter,” he says.

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