DHAKA: Vibrant colors burst from baskets full of fresh fruits and vegetables. Nearby, artisans display hand-crafted home appliances and items made from bamboo.
The array of produce and craft at the oldest market in central Dhaka connects the Bangladeshi capital with rural areas, stirring a nostalgia for traditional life.
The weekly Meradia market has been attracting city dwellers to the Rampura area for over a century. The scene beside the Narai canal is noisy and not very clean, but buyers find it authentic, as Meradia is the last remaining haat, or traditional open-air marketplace, in a city where shopping has gradually moved to multistory malls.
“This weekly market brings a nostalgia in my mind as it has the noise and ambience like the traditional village haats,” Mohammad Solaiman, a 64-year-old resident of Dhaka, told Arab News as he bought fruits from one of the sellers.
Haat bazaars, the main trading venues in Bangladeshi villages, are usually set up on riverbanks, with traders sheltering from the heat of sunlight in the shadow of huge banyan trees.
“I don’t get this feeling in the air-conditioned super shops in the capital,” Solaiman said. “Nothing can stop me from coming to this market.”
Meradia traders do not have any reserved space at the market and sit wherever they find an empty spot — some in makeshift stalls, others right on the ground with their products spread out on newspapers or mats.
Ibrahim Mollah has been selling fruits in the market for the past 16 years. Every Wednesday, he arrives in Meradia from Rupganj — some 18 km east of Dhaka — at dawn and returns when the market wraps up after sunset.
“My father and grandfather used to sell fruits in this market,” he said. “I heard from them that this market was launched during the British era in the subcontinent.”
For Boloram Kormokar, a septuagenarian blacksmith from Rupganj, Meradia is also a part of family tradition.
“I am a man from a blacksmith family, and I learnt this craftsmanship from my father who also used to sell our goods in this market,” he said. “I have a permanent shop in the city’s Basabo area. I come here every week as it has a different kind of flavor, which I don’t get in a formal setting at my shop.”
Some of the traders arrive in Meradia on small boats, which they anchor beside the market, and others travel by car if their farms are closer.
Most of the traders arrive with food and items they produce themselves, with no middlemen involved.
Kamran Patwary, who sells vegetables from his farm, sometimes also takes green groceries grown by his neighbors.
“There is no middleman in between, which allows the buyers to buy the fresh vegetables at a cheaper rate,” he said. “I am a farmer. I produce different kinds of seasonal vegetables on my own land.”
At Meradia, products are relatively cheaper, but for modern Dhaka homemakers like 35-year-old Fatema Rahman, what matters even more is that green goods at the market are grown naturally and do not contain any chemical preservatives.
“There are many markets in the capital, but a real fresh product is not available in most of the places,” she said. “I wait for Wednesday to buy fresh vegetables and fruits from this haat.”