In Photos: Meet The ‘Boat’Keepers Of Kolkata’s Floating Market

With 114 boats & 228 shops, the newly-rehabilitated shopkeepers hope that the buzz around the market helps business.

Published
India
5 min read
In Photos: Meet The ‘Boat’Keepers Of Kolkata’s Floating Market

Kolkata’s floating market – touted as the first floating market in the country – was inaugurated on 24 January and if the West Bengal government is to be believed, it is the third of its kind in Asia.

The floating market is not an indulgence but a necessity to rehabilitate those who would have otherwise lost their livelihood
Firhad Hakim at the inauguration
In Photos: Meet The ‘Boat’Keepers Of Kolkata’s Floating Market
(Photo: Ishadrita Lahiri/The Quint)

Set up by the Kolkata Municipal Development Authority (KMDA), the market was the brainchild of the Municipal Affairs Minister Firhad Hakim who saw a similar market in Bangkok and wanted to duplicate it in his own city. The shopkeepers, who were allotted boats based on a system of lottery, have been running their businesses for over 20 years at a nearby marketplace that is being dismantled.

In Photos: Meet The ‘Boat’Keepers Of Kolkata’s Floating Market
(Photo: Ishadrita Lahiri/The Quint)

The markets at Kashmir’s Dal Lake don’t count, say the government, because they are unorganised and shopkeepers have to individually reach out to customers.

The market has been built on a 500x60 metre waterbody. Each boat houses two shopkeepers and the public use a wooden walkway to reach the boats.

Each boat has been divided into two sections.
Each boat has been divided into two sections.
(Photo: Ishadrita Lahiri/The Quint)
People use a wooden walkway to access the boats.
People use a wooden walkway to access the boats.
(Photo: Ishadrita Lahiri/The Quint)

From vegetables to chicken, fish to pakodas and chai and even shirts and tailors, there is a great variety of things available in the market due to the rehabilitation.

In Photos: Meet The ‘Boat’Keepers Of Kolkata’s Floating Market
(Photo: Ishadrita Lahiri/The Quint)
In Photos: Meet The ‘Boat’Keepers Of Kolkata’s Floating Market
(Photo: Ishadrita Lahiri/The Quint)
In Photos: Meet The ‘Boat’Keepers Of Kolkata’s Floating Market
(Photo: Ishadrita Lahiri/The Quint)

A board outside the entry gate reads “No smoking inside the market,” but Kashinath Khatua who runs a cigarette shop doesn’t think it will affect his sales.

Kashinath Khatua runs a cigarette shop in what is essentially a no smoking zone.
Kashinath Khatua runs a cigarette shop in what is essentially a no smoking zone.
(Photo: Ishadrita Lahiri/The Quint)
This feels like a foreign land. I’m glad I got to be a part of this. Even if smoking is not allowed inside, people buy cigarettes and smoke outside.
Kashinath Khatua

A few shops away from his, is 62-year-old Sabita Halder’s vegetable stall. The sole breadwinner for her family since her husband died seven years ago, Sabita hopes that the market will be a success. Her daughter was trafficked and sold off after the father’s death and her eldest son died a year ago.

Sabita Halder prays on her boat.
Sabita Halder prays on her boat.
(Photo: Ishadrita Lahiri/The Quint)
Whatever God wishes for will happen. I just hope that my customers who used to come in the previous market, come here as well.
Sabita Halder

Bappa Nayyar, who has been running his fish business for 30 years says that waste disposal is a problem.

Bappa Nayyar has been running the fish business for 30 years.
Bappa Nayyar has been running the fish business for 30 years.
(Photo: Ishadrita Lahiri/The Quint)
Our customers would obviously want the fish scaled and cut. The only place to dispose of our waste material is in the water which will make the adjacent area very unclean.
Bappa Nayyar

While most seemed happy with being rehabilitated to the market, 40-year-old Aparna Purkayit who owned a tailoring shop in the erstwhile VIP market rues how her one-room shop has now been reduced to a few square-feet.

Aparna Purakayit with her sewing machine.
Aparna Purakayit with her sewing machine.
(Photo: Ishadrita Lahiri/The Quint)
“How will I do my fitting in this much space and that too in the open?” she wondered aloud. “Well, you have to make do with what you get,” someone advised her from the side.

Both Archana Sikdar and her mother own pakoda shops and have been allotted boats. 30-year-old Archana thinks the new set-up of the Floating Market is better than where her shop was previously.

Archana Sikdar packs some samosas for a customer.
Archana Sikdar packs some samosas for a customer.
(Photo: Ishadrita Lahiri/The Quint)
My shop was right next to the road earlier. People thought it was unhygienic. Now they’ll feel safer. Moreover, I’m expecting a lot of people to come just see the novelty that this market is. And of course, Bengalis love to snack!
Archana Sikdar

Many kids were seen helping their parents set up shop.

In Photos: Meet The ‘Boat’Keepers Of Kolkata’s Floating Market
(Photo: Ishadrita Lahiri/The Quint)

Some like Gautam Saha, who runs a ready-made shirt store, says that his sales depend a lot on loyal customers. He’s informed all of them that he’s shifted to the floating market.

Gautam Saha with his wife in his semi set-up shirt shop.
Gautam Saha with his wife in his semi set-up shirt shop.
(Photo: Ishadrita Lahiri/The Quint)
We don’t have much space to set up our shop. Bu the good thing is that there’s only one more shirt shop in this market so there isn’t much competition.
Gautam Saha

Sumitra Naskar, however, doesn’t have much luck. There are multiple shops that sell flowers littered all over the market. She hopes her shop, towards the end of the market, is not a disadvantage either.

Sumitra Naskar hopes that her shop’s location will not be a problem.
Sumitra Naskar hopes that her shop’s location will not be a problem.
(Photo: Ishadrita Lahiri/The Quint)

The floating market has created quite a buzz in the city. How successful this innovation will prove for its shop(boat)keepers is something they’ll have to wait and watch.

(We Indians have much to talk about these days. But what would you tell India if you had the chance? Pick up the phone and write or record your Letter To India. Don’t be silent, tell her how you feel. Mail us your letter at lettertoindia@thequint.com. We’ll make sure India gets your message)

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