Fresh from the lowlands

By Anissa Lamare

It was a hot Monday morning. The fruit and vegetable market on the footpaths along the main road near Polo ground was abuzz with buyers and sellers. Among the sellers were a few Garo women with baskets full of indigenous produce from Garo Hills. Linda Marak was busy attending to customers who had lined up to buy green coconuts to quench their thirst. It was the busiest time of the day for Marak. In the evening too, she has to tackle a similar rush.
Sitting beside Marak was another woman who was busy bargaining with a buyer. None of them had time to entertain individuals who were not potential buyers. These vendors are among several Garo sellers who are doing business in the city for years now.


Shillong has a substantial Garo population and the Garo markets — the one at Polo is the biggest — cater to their demand. The buyers also include people from other communities. Several members of the tribe bring organic fruits and vegetables like bananas, jackfruit, sweet potato, various edible roots and leaves from the plains belt of Meghalaya and sell in local markets or on footpaths here.
Agriculture is the main source of livelihood in the state where 80 per cent of the population is engaged in farming. Organic farm produce are in high demand in the city and many like Marak find a good market in Shillong.
Marak, who is in her forties, is originally from Assam but has been selling farm produce in Shillong for the past 19 years. She decided to settle down here “because the area I belonged to had less scope to gain any profit”. She sells coconuts and bamboo shoot in the morning and vegetables in the evening.
Vendors, most of whom are women, sell ginger, turmeric, litchis, cabbages, pumpkins, coconut, pineapples, bananas and leafy vegetables, among other things, in makeshift stalls set up with bamboo poles and plastic cover. Besides fruits and vegetables, dry fish, shells, crabs and local fish and chicken are also sold.
T Momin, who is originally from Tikrikilla and is currently a resident of Lachumiere, says she prefers to go to the Polo market because of the wide range of produce sold there.
Garo vendors are regular even at Laitumkhrah and on the footpath near the Secretariat building. Litchis and bananas sold by these vendors are in high demand in Shillong.


Many sellers, like Tushar Momin, visit Garo Hills at least once a week to get the produce. “I take the night bus and come back after one or two days. I buy the vegetables from Garo villagers and sell them here,” said Momin, who is from Kharkutta.
Pamina, another vendor in her thirties, has been selling vegetables at the Polo market for a decade now. When asked about the time she spent in the city, she smiled and said she had lost count of the years. “The market has grown over the years and this has helped me earn more profits than before. Selling vegetables is my only source of income,” said the vendor.
But Marak pointed out that the market is sometimes unpredictable owing to various reasons. When it comes to her daily wage, she said she gets enough to buy 2-3 kg of rice for her family a day. Currently, a resident of Mawpun, Marak visits her village once a year and calls Shillong home now.
Both Marak and Pamina open their stalls by 7 am and sits under a thin sheet of plastic through the four seasons of the year. By 1pm, most of the produce are sold out and “even if they don’t, we shut up shop as we have to come again”.
“If I come around noon, I do not get most of the things. I prefer to come here as the quality of the produce is also good,” said Jenbenard K Marak, a regular buyer.
Most of the vendors have regular buyers who know the right time to get the best and freshest produce. A middle-aged woman buying fruits from a Garo vendor said she lives nearby and comes to the market almost every day. “In all these years there has been no change in the market,” she said as she collected her bag full of fruits and vegetables.
Both the stalls have similar items ranging from jackfruit, coconut, litchi, bamboo shoot which are mainly sold during the day while vegetables are sold in the evening. These women run their families and fund their children’s education from the earnings they make.
Now, organisations like NESFAS are providing platforms to sellers of indigenous farm produce for better connect with buyers. Hinting that Garo vendors can be part of the farmers’ market, Janak Preet Singh, senior associate at NESFAS, said these markets “can give consumers a chance to get access to some of the products which may not be available in the main stream market”.
“Farmers’ market encourages everyone to enjoy quality food with awareness by learning to choose food that is produced in harmony with the natural environment and is appropriate to the local culture,” Singh said.
Besides codified regulations, Singh seeks to put forth an organic way of producing and marketing of the same to enhance not only health but the interdependence of consumers on local produce as well.
At the state level, there remains a scope to consolidate the markets to boost the sellers’ income as well as make it convenient for buyers. However, the Agriculture Department does not have any such plan to rejuvenate the market anytime soon.
But if promoted well, the Garo market can even attract both domestic and international tourists who are always eager to know about the tradition, culture and food habits of the tribes in the North East. After all, “a city is a state — of mind, of taste, of opportunity”.

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