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.
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 livelihoodFirhad Hakim at the inauguration
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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