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A market for everything under the sun in Tiruchi

After a winding drive from G-Corner Ground, the presence of handcarts, bicycles and makeshift stalls selling a disparate collection of goods — watches, framed paintings and guavas — announces the arrival of the Golden Rock Shandy, a market that has been in operation since 1926 in Tiruchi’s Ponmalaipatti suburb.

Sprawled out on a ground that is close to 3 acres in extent, the shandy is thriving, though regular visitors say it has seen better days. The market operates from dawn to dusk (and a bit longer during festive seasons) and has between 200-500 traders on its premises selling everything from fresh vegetables, faux leather handbags, ethnic snacks, kitchen utensils, groceries and pet animals.

Meat, fish and poultry can also be bought at the shandy from British-era clay-tiled stalls.

The sheer variety of goods on offer here has a historical reason too — the shandy used to serve employees of the Railways (which owns the market ground) who were unable to venture out to shop in downtown Tiruchi.

A Wikipedia page on the market says that in the initial years, the shandy was held every fortnight (when Railways staff were paid twice a month in cash). In its modern avatar, with the salary system changing over the years, the market now is held every Sunday. But many traders tend to stream in the night before to get their stalls ready.

Something for everyone

Among the shandy veterans is A S Ravindran, who has been selling country knives and kitchen implements for the past 35 years from a large thatched stall. “Even though the big shops have got similar products, our stuff is cheaper,” he says. “We buy our aruvals (billhooks) in bulk from Tenkasi, and these are sought after for cattle slaughter and tree-cutting,” says Ravindran.

A little further down, Maheshwari is trying to convince customers to pick up one of her brooms made with shaved coconut fronds. The Palakkarai resident makes the katta velakkumaaru (typically used for cleaning floors with water) by getting the raw material from the farms of relatives in Salem, but says her business has been affected by rival products like the ‘Bombay broom’ that is more commonly used in urban households these days. “People don’t clean their homes out like before in the cities, but we still get buyers from the nearby villages,” says Maheshwari, whose brooms sell for ₹15 and ₹20, based on their size. As we pass children queuing up for a ride on a mini Ferris wheel, vendors pitch up waterproof sheets to shelter their stalls from the rain-spattered sunshine.

Kalyani has been selling korai grass mats for the past 25 years at the shandy, sourcing them from weavers in Ayyampalayam. “Mats are best during rainy season, because they are very soothing to sleep on,” she says.

Kalyani works at a mat shop in Gandhi Market through the week, and comes here every Sunday.

Perumal has been selling Kodaikanal potatoes from a basket on his bicycle here for the past 10 years. “We buy around two sacks (each weighing 40-44 kg) of potatoes from the Gandhi Market, and then sell it in the shandy and elsewhere in Tiruchi, through the week,” says the Teppakulam resident.

Neighbouring a stall selling handwoven cane baskets and rakes are 3 family-run shops with a large spread of clay vessels and flower pots.

“People don’t cook with clay vessels anymore, but we have regular business in other things like roosting pots for pet birds, oil lamps and Pongal ware,” says one of the stall vendors, who is originally from Keelkandarkottai.

Though the family no longer works its own kilns, it buys pots made in Keeranur village and has them delivered directly to the market ground. “We just cover our stock when we are done for the day, and return to it the next week,” says the vendor. “Perhaps having a small storage shed would be helpful to many of the shopkeepers here,” he adds.

Missing amenities

Warehouses are not the only facility missing in the 91-year-old shandy.

There is no parking space for vehicles and stray animals have a free run of the ground. More pertinently, the market has no water supply or toilets. Lighting is a problem too.

The stalls that stay open after sunset have to make their own arrangements.

While the Railways doesn’t charge rent for the stalls in the yard, the absence of basic amenities is a big minus for this busy market. When contacted, Railway officials said that plans are underway to auction the market ground by tender for redevelopment.

“The Ponmalai Shandy used to have a wire fence around it, which has disappeared now. The ground also had a small children’s park and a reading room initially, in addition to toilets, but these have fallen into disuse over the years,” says B Neelamegham, a longtime resident of the area, who runs the water conservation organisation Thanneer in Tiruchi.

Thanneer conducted an awareness programme against the use of plastic carrier bags in the shandy recently, but Neelamegham says there’s a lot more to be done to beautify and regularise the market.

“The authorities must step up to recognise the area’s heritage value and also upgrade the property so that we can enjoy visiting the shandy for many more years to come,” he says.

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