Old Spitalfields Market on a Sunday

Walking around in the Old Spitalfields market on a very cold Sunday, the world seemed to converge in small stalls. Beads as though strung all the way from Goa made shiny appearances, and a doormat with Che Guevara’s iconic-Mickey Mousish face. For 8 quid, you could step over the revolution and rub your shoes into the red of the mat and his empty face.

From one end, I spotted the familiar momo. Steamed Tibetan love sharing marketspace with Chinese paper lanterns. Dragons kissing the mincepies. How is it that this space which is otherwise sanitized with investment bankers, black coats and sushi becomes a wild field of lust-kissed wares and thump of Latino beat? My hand waves over the music collection. Jazz from the East Coast of the US lifting the fog off London’s East End.

Outside, you are drawn by the music of the Holloway Brothers. In the medlee of crowds and colours, you sink into the moment and kill the cold. Post-punk, neo-modern, rave-lost souls make their way through the narrow ways and sample world cuisine. A little kid bundled in pink dives into a sea of lambskin pieces. This London – where does it come from. Where does it go on weekdays? Where do they hide their corduroys? The cold. The biting cold, and snaps its teeth on the edge of your fingers and grabs your neck. You know how it is – You are riding a bike, and the cold of the wind dashes into your eyes and squeezes some water out. Just like that. Watery eyes and the thrill of an open road. Or in this case, a huge marketplace. You don’t have to buy. But I’ve got to touch everything. Feel that jacket, touch the ridge of the CD, pull that poster and breathe over the fog of quids exchanging hands.

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0 Responses to Old Spitalfields Market on a Sunday

  1. First Rain says:

    Don’t know why but the fild thing this reminded me of was `Diagon Alley!’


  2. First Rain says:

    Eeeks! A comment with typos… my apologies!


  3. ~River~ says:

    Beautifully written, Neha.


  4. Lovely writing. I can feel the cold


  5. Rohin says:

    My girlfriend used to live almost on top of the market. She moved a few months ago and I haven’t been to Spitalfields since, so enjoyed reading this. But I have to disagree about the area normally being sanitised by IBers and corporate types! Commercial St. is constantly abuzz with trendies flitting between Brick Lane and Hoxton. Post-punk is a fair approximation to many of the visitors, but Spitalfields also houses the new generation of Hoxton Twat. Spitalfields is also the location of rollerblading clubs and dance classes throughout the week.

    Brick Lane and Commercial St (including the market) have more of a symbiotic relationship than the market and the Square Mile.

    It’s one of my favourite areas in London – and the latest addition to London’s tourist schedule, as foreign visitors take the now famous ‘Spitalfields Walking Tour’ to explore the fascinating immigrant history of the area, from Jews to Bangladeshis.


  6. neha vish says:

    First Rain: Eeks!
    River and Ramblings: Thank you… And I hope it isn’t too cold..

    Rohin: Yup I hear you. Bricklane and Commercial St. buzzes alright.. I live five minutes from Liverpool Street and on weekdays I find even Commercial St, swamped with the black-coats. But on Sundays – It’s just overwhelmingly a riot of colour and beats. In fact, I believe it’s become very “in” to own a piece of real-estate (or three-quarters of a flat – as the case maybe) in that area.

    While the relationship between the Square Mile and that enclave is symbiotic – there is something about that area that makes the City of London almost ignore it on a weekday. The trash by the streetside as witness… 🙂


  7. >>For 8 quid, you could step over the revolution and rub your shoes into the red of the mat and his empty face.



  8. Rohin says:

    You’re right, the juxtaposition of the most affluent businesses in London and the abject poverty of Tower Hamlets (isn’t it supposed to be the most deprived place in Western Europe?) has always made me smile. Well I don’t know if smile’s the right word, but it’s amusing. It also reminds me of India (I should really say Bangladesh but I haven’t been there!) as restauranteurs struggling to make a living, people who left school at 14, single mothers down to their last penny all rub shoulders with pinstriped men with moneyclips and cigar-cutters. India is the first country that I think of when talking about the rich-poor divide being obvious as the rich employ the poor and hence live together, whereas Western countries tend to hide the split. But right here in London it’s as obvious as anywhere in Mumbai.

    My gf used to live on Folgate Street (she works on Liverpool St). After saying I haven’t been to the area for ages, Folgate Street is exactly where I’m going tonight!

    And it’s a great place to own property – lucky you!


  9. neha vish says:

    Rohin: I believe the word is RENT the property! 😀

    But completely agree with your observations. I think most major cities work on that form of diametric opposites. A crazy culture of high density populations – each feeding off the other – and the lowest of the low – getting trampled in the bargain.


  10. Anonymous says:

    Do Tamilians speak hindi ? Seem to come across as clannish.As a non tamilian a recent trip to the city was not very pleasent.
    How can we call us cosmopolitan citizens , when in our own country we seem to distinguish such a lot. The north south divide…get non maharahtrians out of Mumbai , outsiders ruining Bangalore ….Biharis in Bengal etc….The people who make these distinctions back home …when abroad want the foreigners to accept us…Seems a little hypocritical….


  11. neha vish says:

    Anon: I don’t see how your comment is relevant to the post. But in case you aren’t a troll – Let me spell this out to you – Being cosmopolitan does not mean being homogenous. It doesn’t imply that we’re all the same – and eat, sleep, talk and behave the same way. It’s a confluence of cultures. As for Tamizh people speaking Hindi – Please pick up some history books on the imposition of language and culture by the Central Government on various regions – to understand the psyche. I don’t see why Tamizh people must learn Hindi – English serves as a very easy way to bridge a lot of gaps in the country.

    Perhaps you should make more of an effort to pick up a basic-phrases in Tamizh booklet when you go to Chennai or some other city – instead of cribbing.


  12. Anonymous says:

    Not cribbing , got around with english and help from friends. Just felt strange when I spoke in in Hindi was frowned upon , felt a stange uneasy feeling. Very strange experience..in Chennai . Loved it in Bangalore and Hyderabad no such experiences there.


  13. neha vish says:

    Anon: Between the mid-50s and mid 80s (and some would argue – even now), there was a move to establish some kind of cultural hegemony over Tamizh – especially as a language, to somehow subvert a culture and its people into a mainstream “Hindi” identity.

    People in Tamizh Nadu find it strange that people from the North who constantly make fun of their accent, the way they look and stereotype them in movies, label them all as Madrasis and laugh at a “Madrasi Accent” expect people to know Hindi. From Bus Conductors to Autorickshaw wallahs, for a person who doesn’t know Hindi in the North and even attempts to communicate in any other language – it exposes that person to such deep vulnerability.

    As for Hyd – It is more of a Deccan city. It has had a very different culture. Hindi is widely spoken in the city. More than adapting to another culture, it is part of the intrinsic cultural fabric. Bangalore – surprisingly – is far more difficult to get by with Hindi. I have tried quite often, and it is harder if you don’t know Kannada.

    That strange uneasy feeling you talk about? – Most South Indians feel it everyday when they visit North for short periods.


  14. i work in the houndsditch area and have walked into brick lane once for dinner that i did not enjoy. the sight of these restaurants dishing out curry is not pleasant.

    having read your colorful account of old spitalfields market i must get there to better appreciate your narrative.

    your staunch defence of tamil remaining the language of choice in TN was cogent. i would not demand that visitors to TN learn tamil. may be a few catchphrases would do. a passable fluency in english should get you going in madras. in the hinterland trouble is in store for those who can’t speak a word of tamil.

    such is the difficulty for someone from madurai or tirunelveli trying to find his way in allahabad or gorakhpur.