My neighbourhood in Bangalore never ceases to amaze and delight me. Within a 700m radius we have a gorgeous park, High Street shopping for just about anything we need (including taco sauce, Betty Crocker brownie mix and Gouda cheese!), one of Bangalore’s famous mosques, Empire (a life saver at midnight!) and even a few spots to buy a frappuccino with whipped cream! As an expat living in India, I love the convenience that living in Frazer Town affords me and the fact that I can buy ‘a little slice of home’ all within walking distance from our flat.
Like everything else in India, life in Frazer Town is also a dichotomy. Some of the flats in the building where we live rent for over Rs. 1 lak (aprox. $2,000 USD) per month yet just a short 700 metres away our neighbours live in run-down row houses that are no larger than a storage shed and have neither running water or the modern conveniences that we enjoy just around the corner. I pass by them every day on my way to work on our drive down Pottery Street, which also houses the back corner of the Tannery Road goat and sheep market, once the only government-run slaughter-house in Bangalore.
I’ve been curious about the goat market since the first time I saw a man tie his newly purchased and still alive goat to his moped. He obviously didn’t want to incur the livestock transportation fee so he decided to lay the goat on its side atop the foot rest area, then he tied the legs around either side of the moped and attached them at the back. Poor little goat! I’m sure he must have about had a little heart attack. I also feel bad for the little goats when the owners ‘walk them’ out from the market by holding one of their back legs – forcing them to hobble along – so they don’t try to make a run for it. Personally, I wish they’d place a lead on them but I do suppose that this method gets the job done and keeps the goats safe from being accidentally hit by a passing vehicle if they decide to stage a prison break and make a run for freedom!
Well, after seeing the moped goat I have always looked over towards the market as we drive past but until yesterday I hadn’t rolled down the window to snap any photos or stepped outside to explore that part of my neighbourhood. But curiosity got the better of me when my driver Shiva and I were having a discussion about the small row houses so we pulled over and I grabbed my camera and my notebook (I will actually explore the row house topic more because I still don’t fully understand it enough to write intelligently about it but there are some interesting rules that merge the people, land, religion and government).
Pottery Street is about 500 metres from our place but in some respects it is worlds apart. The first thing I noticed was the smell. Honestly I had no idea that such a strong, pungent smell could emanate from literally just around the corner from our place yet I’ve never smelled even a hint of it. Okay, it isn’t just around the corner but it is only a few blocks away. Pottery Street runs alongside the train tracks so Shiva explained that the smell is a combination of the goat market, the slaughterhouse, the lack of plumbing in the small homes and the ‘business’ that falls from the train loos and onto the train tracks. I still haven’t travelled by train here in India so I honestly didn’t know that today’s modern trains still have ‘au natural’ outhouses but okay, fair enough, that definitely could contribute I suppose.
The neighbourhood goat and sheep market is an integral part of Bangalore’s oldest slaughterhouse. The building actually dates back to 1864 and was originally constructed as a schoolhouse for upper-class Indian and British children. It was the same bold red colour as the high court and public library buildings inside Cubbon Park. Around 88 years ago it was eventually converted into the 4 acre facility we know today. On average, 400-500 goats and sheep are sold every day by up to 200 sellers.
The busiest day of the year for the slaughterhouse is during the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha (Bakrid), when around 5,000 goats and sheep are sold. I remember driving down Pottery Street on the day of the festival of Bakrid, which remembers Prophet Ibrahim’s call to sacrifice his only son Ismail, and it was literally converted into one large livestock market. Check out this short video compiled from the last festival with pics taken at the Tannery Road market, here is also information on the history of Eid al-Adha.
In the market square, I interviewed about a dozen gentlemen yesterday, all of whom were merchants, and all of whom had inherited the trade from their father or uncle. The merchants shared general information with me like the best quality animals come from the villages of Bannur and Sira. I was told that the goats and sheep sell for Rs. 3,000-4,000 ($58-77 USD) and the government-run slaughterhouse charges buyers Rs. 20 ($0.40 USD) to slaughter and cut them. I think that the most shocking thing I heard was that there is only a Rs. 100 ($2 USD) profit per animal. When a bag of feed costs Rs. 400 ($7.70 USD), they have to gauge the amount of animals to buy at auction very carefully or risk having to shelter them (Rs. 5 per day, $0.10 USD) and feed them for days until they are sold at the market which deeply cut into their profit margins.
The guys were all a bit reluctant to speak with me above and beyond this general information and I was only allowed to snap one picture. I did some research online and have learned the reason for this is that back in 2005 the government ordered that the four downtown slaughterhouses be moved to new 40 acres facilities at Igalur in Anekal Taluk on the outskirts of Bangalore, which would also move the markets. Although the Tannery Road facility is now in the centre of Bangalore, back in the 1960s it was still considered the outskirts of town. Construction of a modern abattoir is already underway but the government organizations responsible for moving them have been met with strong opposition from the local people. I could definitely see the pride in the merchants I spoke with that they work out of Bangalore’s oldest market and slaughterhouse, where their fathers and grandfathers had also worked. It will be interesting to see what happens.
I think it was just as interesting for them to have a white woman chatting them up in the middle of the slaughterhouse as it was for me to be there. In fact one of them commented that I was the first white woman they had ever seen at market. By the time I left I had about 15 guys circling me, offering up tidbits of information with Shiva playing translator thankfully and making sure the guys behaved (which they did). The slaughterhouse is definitely a place with tons of action and activity going on all day. In the short few minutes I was there I saw one goat try to make a run for it, another one had his hoof injured by a passing moped, I was awe-struck over a rickshaw full of hay that passed by and there was a rogue cow that ran into the market area to steal some food from the goats eating their lunch. And no matter how much I love living on a park, we just don’t have that kind of excitement every day in our neck of the woods!
© 2012 Angela Carson