The Devaraja Market Debacle !
Columns, Over A Cup of Evening Tea

The Devaraja Market Debacle !

July 25, 2021

By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD

In my last article, I spoke of how our stately Lansdowne Building came into being and its present sad and sorry state. Now it is time for us to pay a visit to our sprawling Devaraja Market, a portion of which collapsed due to sheer neglect way back in the year 2016. 

I have already said that today this imposing edifice that shelters more than two thousand shops of all kinds and supports the lives of the thousands more who depend on it for their livelihood, stands precariously perched between life and death and nobody is able to say which way it will go. 

Yes, this is its sad state because five full years after its northern end collapsed, there has been no attempt by our authorities to restore it or repair and strengthen the rest of this heritage structure although it is badly in need of some attention. It was once the only place for all Mysureans to do their shopping for every single thing, with an annex behind that sold meat, poultry and fish in complete isolation, at a respectable distance, so that this trade did not hurt the sensibilities and sentiments of the non-meat eaters! 

Although I have not stepped into it for the last twenty years, simply because there is no parking place anywhere around it all through the day, this market too is a place that is very dear to me because it is linked very closely with my childhood. That was the place where we, like most other Mysureans, used to do almost all our shopping for our groceries, fruits, vegetables, toys and trinkets. 

The Northern facade now. The staircase on the left once led to the Devaraja Police Station in the first floor.

The place I liked to visit there the most was Ali Brothers, the shop that used to sell all the goodies that were dear to my heart and palate like Cadbury’s Chocolates, Kissan Jam and Tomato Sauce, Parry’s Toffees, Polson’s Butter and the Cocktail brand salted cashew-nuts, to name just a few! 

A few years ago, I have written a full article about this shop owned by my father’s friend Sadiq Ali, whom I call the ‘Man in White’! In his immaculate white shirt and white trousers, he can still pass off as the best but unpaid brand ambassador for Tinopol the best fabric whitener of his time! 

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Another attraction for me there was the Ashok Book Centre, although it came up much later as a branch of the J. Nanumal and Sons stationery shop across the road. It was managed by his second son Thakur Das, who was my collegemate and close friend and on weekends I would spend hours browsing there to my heart’s content. Sadly, it was located in the portion of the market that came crashing down and all that is left of it for me now, are my sad memories of my happy association with it. 

Although there was nothing really very attractive for me inside the market building, I still never used to miss accompanying my father into it at any time for our more mundane shopping. The reason for this was the arrangement I had struck with him where all the loose change given back by all the shop-keepers used to go into my own pockets as my pocket-money. After we were done at one shop, he had to pull out a new currency note from his pocket to pay the bill at the next, only to enrich my pocket once again! 

I used to store my day’s collection of coins in an old wooden cigar box before converting them into currency notes through my mother. My cash box still sits in my cupboard with a good many of its coins still lying at its bottom! 

The Nandi Store, which still stands in its original form and place, was where we bought all our groceries. On its long front shelf, for the customers’ inspection and approval, would be placed in small bowls, all the grains, pulses and condiments that were sold there. And Mahadev, the genial, ever-smiling and ever-helpful store manager would make a long list of all that we wanted and pass it on to his assistants for packing. And, while they did their job we would go around the rest of the market for the rest of our shopping, trailed by Kuppa, our favourite, ever-smiling and ever-helpful porter with his huge round bamboo tray, smartly perched on his turbaned head. 

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While he would hold on to his tray with one hand, he would with his other hand clutch my hand tightly to ensure that I would not get lost in the crowd! He would be so alert that on one occasion, to my horror, he even caught and soundly thrashed a man who was trying to pick my father’s pocket! 

An old photo of Devaraja Market

Kuppa was a Tamilian and his full name was Kuppuswamy and for a paltry fee of just twenty-five paise he would happily carry all our purchases to our car, after devoting a full one hour for the job! Every time, after our festival purchases, he would be rewarded with a rupee note, over and above his usual fee, on receiving which he would bow down and touch my father’s feet in reverent thankfulness, although may father would always dissuade him from doing something so embarrassing. 

Even to this day, every time I drive past that place, I still visualise Kuppa with his broad smile, leaning against one of the pillars while waiting for someone to summon him for his services, with a wave of the hand! I am sure that to every other Mysurean like me, the Devaraja Market remains dear because it has been so much a part of our lives over the years. 

That fine and majestic building has stood strong for more than a hundred years and done a fine job of serving us. But I do not think we have done anything to save it from the ravages of time. Now when the time has come for us to repair it and restore it to its former glory or build a completely new commercial structure in its place, we seem to be torn between our love for our past and the craving for something new that can certainly be better and more useful. 

But what is needed most is to take a decision quickly and act appropriately before the rest of the building crumbles, endangering the lives and livelihoods of all those who depend on it. Keeping things wrapped in ugly tin sheets and out of sight, is certainly not the way to treat our city and its many treasures! 

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