In the Bazaars of Hyderabad
Born with Bengali roots to an intellectually-gifted parents, Sarojini Naidu had the opportunity to receive good education both in India and in England. She made the best of her extraordinary talent and privileged upbringing to do things that her soul really craved for.
The plight of Indian women made her very sad. Crushed under the weight of blind tradition and marginalized in a patriarchal society, women had no window to breathe free let alone engage in any meaningful intellectual activity.
Sarojini Naidu took up the cudgels on their behalf and crusaded for their emancipation. That started her foray to the public stage. Soon she plunged to the freedom movement as staunch supporter of Gandhi. She became the president of the Indian National Congress. But, her mind remained anchored to literary pursuits. She wrote many touching poems winning her accolades from readers in India and overseas. She came to be known as the Nightingale of India. Many of her popular poems centered around the rustic simplicity, beauty, and diversity of Indian rural life.
As a freedom fighter, she attracted hostile scrutiny of the colonial masters. The British had effectively stifled dissemination of news and views critical of the colonial rule with draconian laws. Sarojini Naidu, nevertheless, continued to sing the praise of India and her people through poems in a subtle manner.
About this poem … Sarojini Chattopadhay (later Naidu) was born and brought up in Hyderabad. That gave her a good insight to the sight and sound of this bustling city. The markets overflowed with merchandize, and buyers and sellers. Frenzied yelling, bargaining, and haggling rent the air round the day. For a quiet, non-commercial visitor, the market provided amusement, intrigue, imagination, and food for thought. Sarojini Naidu was, no doubt, a discerning watcher of the market place. Her simple narrative style cast in a question-answer format characterizes this poem.
What do you sell O ye merchants ?
Richly your wares are displayed.
Turbans of crimson and silver,
Tunics of purple brocade,
Mirrors with panels of amber,
Daggers with handles of jade.
First stanza note ..As a curious onlooker, the author marvels at the wide array of items offered for sale in the market. With eyes gaping with wonder, she asks the merchants about the many items they display, such as the crimson and sliver coloured turbans, tunics with purple brocades, amber-paneled mirrors and the dreadful daggers with handles beautifully studded with jade.
What do you weigh, O ye vendors?
Saffron and lentil and rice.
What do you grind, O ye maidens?
Sandalwood, henna, and spice.
What do you call , O ye pedlars?
Chessmen and ivory dice.
Second stanza .. Then her eyes fall on the many vendors who throng the market with their myriad wares. She asks the vendors who sell rice, lentils and saffron what they weigh. The author answers herself. Then she turns her eyes on the maidens who grind sandalwood, henna and spice. Then, there are the peddlers who sell items for the chess board.
What do you make,O ye goldsmiths?
Wristlet and anklet and ring,
Bells for the feet of blue pigeons
Frail as a dragon-fly’s wing,
Girdles of gold for dancers,
Scabbards of gold for the king.
Third stanza … Then the author casts her glance towards the famed goldsmiths, who, with their deft hands, make wristlets, anklets, ring, ultra-light bells for the pigeons’ legs, girdles for dancers’ legs, and ceremonial swords for the royalty. Undoubtedly, the skill of the artisans brings appreciation and cheer to the author.
What do you cry,O ye fruitmen?
Citron, pomegranate, and plum.
What do you play ,O musicians?
Cithar, sarangi and drum.
what do you chant, O magicians?
Spells for aeons to come.
Fourth stanza .. The fruit hawkers passing by catch the attention of the author. They offer citron, pomegranate, and plum. Then there are the musicians who play the sitar, sarangi and the drum. Adding a touch of bemusement to the bustling market place, there are the magicians who baffle the onlookers with their tricks, sleights of hand, and weird shouts, as if they are invoking heavenly powers.
What do you weave, O ye flower-girls
With tassels of azure and red?
Crowns for the brow of a bridegroom,
Chaplets to garland his bed.
Sheets of white blossoms new-garnered
To perfume the sleep of the dead.
Fifth and last stanza … Lastly, the flower-girls seem to have stolen the heart of the author. They make tassels of azure and red, decorations for a bridegroom’s head gear, chaplets to garland the marital bed, and strings of white and freshly-plucked flowers to add aroma to the bed being carried to the grave.
Concluding observation .. The poem appears to be from the diary of a simple young girl who visits the market for the first time. However, an intelligent reader will not fail to notice its celebration of nationalism, and its philosophical undertone. Those were the days in which goods from England were thrust upon the Indian consumers. Almost all nationalists vigorously opposed such economic hegemony. Sarojini Naidu too raised her voice albeit through her poems.
The poem depicts a thriving market place awash with goods of all descriptions. Hyderabad offered everything to the buyer from ceremonial thrones to burial accessories. So, it could do without goods coming out of British factories. What better way to underscore this than to celebrate the vigour and exuberance of the market place!
Readers are welcome to send in their questions to receive model answers.