Photo essay

Photos: The delight and wariness at India’s first floating market in Kolkata

The initiative is meant to rehabilitate shopkeepers of the Baishnabghata-Patuli market, which has been displaced by a reconstruction project.

There’s a touch of Bangkok in south Kolkata now, as 114 boats on Patuli Lake host 280 shops selling everything from essentials such as fruits, vegetables, fish and meat to household items. There are even two salons.

The floating market is India’s first and is part of a beautification drive undertaken by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The state government, along with the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority, launched this initiative to rehabilitate the shopkeepers of the Baishnabghata-Patuli market, which is being demolished for the widening of a bypass.

Since it was inaugurated by Banerjee on January 25, the floating market has seen crowds visit from all over the city to experience a new way to do their daily marketing. Buyers navigate the market on wooden walkways connecting the boats.

Both buyers and sellers have found advantages and disadvantages at the new location. Bapi Dutta, a vegetable seller who comes from the Rajpur municipality of South 24 Parganas district, said, “This has been a very good experience so far in terms of management, but locals who are our regular customers still need some time to know about this and adjust themselves to this new thing. We believe it will happen very soon.”

Sagarika Hazra, a local resident and filmmaker, said, “We are loving this floating market so close to our home. Even though it took us some time to figure out this new thing, now it seems smooth.”

Manoj Thakur, the priest who used to conduct pujas every morning at stores in the market, now has to carry out his activities in each of the boats, which he said is a “thoroughly enjoyable experience”. But he wondered what steps the local authorities are going to take when the monsoon sets in. Another concern is how senior citizens will navigate the market.

Nimai Biswas, who sells eggs, said, “It is definitely a new experience for us. Earlier it was very easy to interact with our fellow friends in the market, which is now difficult because of the new structure. We have not increased our prices just because we have shifted to a new location, which would have made our regular customers shift their loyalties”.

A huge concern is the management of the lake and maintenance of hygiene for which the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority has fitted two aerators and two fountains. Local resident Sanchaita Sen said, “Since the entire market is situated on a lake, people need to be careful about not littering the water by throwing rubbish.”

The onus will be on both the shopkeepers and shoppers to make sure the lake is kept clean.

All photographs by Bitan Basu.

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