That part of Bangalore, for two days, every year

Perfect Competition:  A form of market wherein there are multiple producers selling a similar, perhaps even same, commodity to a large number of buyers.

Textbooks of economics list many other characteristics of such a market but we can leave them aside for now. What must be mentioned though that it is usually the first ‘type’ of market that a student of economics is taught. Most I presume, learn about it, knowing that it is impossible for such a market to exist outside of the textbook. It is, quite simply, the Utopia of economics.

Now I know that you came here expecting a piece on Bangalore. Please pardon my greeting you with banal economic theory but if not for the two paragraphs above, I wouldn’t have been able to explain the sheer joy of discovering Utopia in Bangalore in the winter of 2011.

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The Kadalekai Parishe or, ‘groundnut fair’ in English, is a two-day event held on the last Monday of the month of Kaarthik on the Bull Temple road. Thousands of groundnut-sellers converge for this carnival. Some start bagging their spaces as early as Fridays before. On sale are groundnuts boiled, roasted and salted. When the fair is at its peak, which is mostly Monday evening, one can find groundnuts and groundnuts and still more groundnuts and if one were to walk ahead still, there’d be as many groundnuts ahead.

It was this fair that my friend and I went to two years ago. I was very excited with the thought of thousands of people selling groundnuts or ‘moongphali’ as I called them. In my humble opinion, munching away on an endless supply of moongphalis is the best thing one can do on a winter evening and so, I was looking forward to buying more than a modest quantity that day.

We stopped in front of a vendor, a woman. Since my Kannada was, and continues to be unfit for even basic conversation, it was my friend who did the talking.

“Ippattu”, said the lady.

“Twenty rupees”, my friend turned and told me. All the vendors, I realised looking around, had a similar measuring container and the price was twenty rupees for all the groundnuts that fit into it. Since she was one of the first vendors in a row of thousands, we decided to have a look round the fair and come back if need be.

We stopped at around every fourth or fifth seller. Every where, the reply was the same– “ippattu”.

“Every person selling the same thing”, I said to my friend, “and at the same price”.

“Hmm”, she nodded in agreement.

“It’s perfect competition”, I said as a matter of fact.

We stopped for a second, looked at each other and beamed– “perfect competition!”.

For a minute or two, the two of us were simply laughing at having discovered this all-important and elusive market type while strolling in a fair.

“I so want to go to class tomorrow and tell every one that we were in perfect competition!”, I exclaimed.

“Absolutely”.

It was like living inside your textbook, such was the thrill in that moment. I know that you reading this might be thinking that I’m going overboard here but for two people who in the six months before that day had read everything from Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand to Ronald Coase’s Social Costs, it was a moment of sheer and absolute magic. Till today, whenever we catch up on phone, we have a good laugh about it.

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 Though groundnuts dominate the Kadalekai Parishe, they are not the only item on sale. You can find delicious snacks (bajjis et al), candyfloss, toys, sweets and much more. It is as raw as a fair can get in a city.

Walking through the crowd there, I got a sense that at least for these two days, people were ready to hold-up against the lures of present and celebrate the past, or just be in it. I say this because walking through the fair, I passed by an outlet of a very famous restaurant. On a usual Monday, that place would be swarmed by students from nearby coaching centres. But today, there were none. Even the people working there were staring outside in a manner which told you that they had not sold a single item that day. “This is history having its moment”, I thought, “if only for two days a year”.

While on the way back, the very obvious question came to my mind– ‘what is the history of it?”.

A quick search on the web returned some really interesting versions of a common story which, in short, goes as follows: the area in and around Basavangudi was used for cultivating ground nuts. At some time in the past, a bull began to show up and destroy the crops. As a measure to save their produce, the farmers pledged to offer a share of it to Nandi at the Doddabasavangudi (Bull Temple) and thus the fair was born.

I, however, was trying to look for the history in the folk lore and posed my query to Dr SP Vagishwari, the Head of Department of History at Christ University. She is, very likely, the best person to go to for anything about the history of Bangalore. At the risk of over simplifying the conversation I had with her, a summary of it would be that Basavangudi and surrounding areas were located at the entrance of old Bangalore. Any body coming to sell their produce in Bangalore would have to pass through them and it was perhaps because of this that the fair is held where it is.

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Those couple of hours at the Kadalekai Parishe in 2011 are part of the most exciting memories that I have from Bangalore and, any body whom I talked to who had been there, shares my views. The 2013 fair starts today. If you can, please make it there. It’s a part of Bangalore that shows itself for only two days a year. I’d not miss that.