Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Bangle Shop

Long, long ago, in villages and towns across India, the 'bangle man' roamed the streets. A cloth knapsack slung on his shoulders, he called out his wares - glass bangles in resplendent colors, some plain, some decorated with gold or silver paint - and made the rounds of his beat perhaps once a month, but more frequently during the marriage or festival seasons.

Inside the knapsack - fashioned out of a large cotton cloth whose four ends were knotted together - the bangles would be strung on long jute strings tied up at the ends to make a garland of the bangles. Many such colorful garlands nestled together in the knapsack.

The soles of his feet cracked from walking miles and miles on dry, dusty roads in worn out sandals or in bare feet, his head wrapped in a towel to ward off the heat of the sun, his teeth stained from years of chewing tobacco, the one-man, walking, talking bangle shop was a welcome sight nonetheless, his sing-song call a cause for great excitement especially if you'd been waiting for a delivery.

Women-folk (like my mom-in-law's mother, for example) hardly ever left the house, even to go to the market. They got their vegetables and grains from their farm and nearly everything else was home-delivered, including saris. Each family would have their favorite street hawker, one who knew the family's needs and would make special trips to his suppliers make sure he had what his customers needed. The same for bangles.

Most homes had a porch, screened with mesh or metal bars, where the bangle man and the women-folk would settle down to pore over the bangles, trying them on for size, flipping their wrists back and forth to check out the feel of the bangles, the clinking sounds providing a rhythm to their conversations. It was more than likely that neighbors would gather together on one porch, saving the bangle man from having to pack and unpack his knapsack over and over.

An old home with a screened porch

This little interlude was a welcome break for the women from their household chores and a welcome respite for the bangle man, a chance to rest his aching feet and take the load off his shoulders.

I wish I had a photo of one for myself and to show you because these days, the bangle man is a dead breed, especially in cities and the larger towns. Although street hawkers can still be found in the older residential neighborhoods, their wares are limited to vegetables in most cases.

The bangle shops have taken over. Even a small shop is able to carry a much larger variety than a hawker ever could. Street-side shops, such as the ones below, are quite popular in Bangalore.

And then there are ones like Bhavani Bangle Shop, which is a shop of the bone fida variety and is spread across four floors in Jayanagar, one of the busiest commercial areas of Bangalore. In all the years I lived in Bangalore, I dissed that shop. I grew up hating the thought of having to wear bangles or bracelets. Now it's a different story. Every time I've been back in the past few years, I've visited that shop, trying on and buying what a few years ago I thought was junk.

In the picture above, the owner receives boxes of new supplies for his shop.

The rows and rows of bangles and ear rings are mesmerizing. They are all costume jewellery, many of the designs (even those of the 'bindis' or the dots worn on the forehead) inspired by the heavily bejewelled heroines and vamps of the Indian soaps that rule the airwaves at all times of day and night.

Costume jewellery has caught on so well that this shop even offers to put together an entire set (bangles, necklaces, ear rings and other accessories) that will match your sari or other dress you might be planning to wear for a special event. I'd never heard of such a service before!

Most interesting of all, have you noticed something? The sales people are all men. A holdover from the bangle-man days, perhaps?


Average Jane said...

Oh, bangle-ore! I do remember the baLegaara coming to Chamrajpet (to grandma's house) when we were little. And I go to Bhavani Kangan on every trip back now. They have a branch in GandhiBazar too.

Sands said...

Interesting read Suj. I remember them coming to my grandma's home when we were little. They knew exactly how to check for your size without breaking the bangles they had in their collection. Brings back memories :)

R's Mom said...

Thats such an interesting read...You have really captured the essence of bangles and all that :)

Anonymous said...

I love that you have posted pics of Bhavani Bangle store. I love that place!

Choxbox said...

Lovely post Suj!

Remember Sarojini Naidu's Bangle-Sellers? One of my favourite poems. And Hyderabad's Choodi Bazar is a whole long lane full of bangle shops.

We have a tradition now - every time we go to a temple the girls and I buy a dozen glass bangles each.

Nisha said...

Recently I was in Hyderabad's Laad bazar, famous for bangles.

You can see
some of photos here.

Kavi said...

The bangles have ruled the fashion market in all of India !

Different ones for different occassions have had a social purpose too !

Praba Ram said...

The pictures of bangle stores, a vertiable feast for the eye, And the story...for the mind! :) Thanks, Suj!
I have pictures of a bangle store from Monaco. :)

Telugu Mom said...

I found your post a couple of days back. I like it.

I loved reading this post. It brings back so many memories :)

shoba said...

Oh! Sujatha.. Bhavani bangle shop. I used to stay in Jaynagar, rather my parents still live there and as you said, I used to dislike it because of the crowd there.
Should visit it next time ... I am just entering the phase of liking jewellery, though still not bangles

Usha said...

I attended a mehndi ceremony of a cousin last year and was pleasantly surprised to see a bangle seller and his wife seated in the hall ensuring every female visitor was suitably bangle-d.
The problem with Bhavani Kangan in Jayanagar is that it is so cramped that you simply lose the joy of checking out the bangles. It has become more like mechanical where you hand over the sari to the salesman and he matches it up with a set of co-ordinated bangles. Gone are the pleasures of spending leisurely afternoons browsing thru his entire stock and choosing bangles for self and the whole neighborhood.

mallikamt said...

Loved reading this! The range of jewellery offered there makes Claire's boutique seem so "lackluster"! And you are right..costume jewellery has taken off. Can't wait for my visit to India next month:) Thanks..

Midlife Roadtripper said...


Reminds me of the Fuller Brush Man when I was young. Came to the house with things like potato scrubbers and household goods. Same man. No longer exists.

The colors of the bangles are most beautiful on the racks. Enjoyed this.

Debbie said...

How interesting. I love the photo of the shop and men!

Cantaloupes.Amma (CA) said...

Brought back memories of a folk song "Bhagyada Balegaara"

I vaguely remember the Bangleman coming to my grandma's house ... but that was long long time ago ... now a days all the popular bangle stores are too crowded for any exciting experience.

Anonymous said...

Lovely memory - I remember the bangle man coming around when I was a girl - but he mostly had boring plain glass bangles - even then, Malleswaram had the more fancy kinds :)

Aren't most fancy store employees men? At least all the ones I've seen are! So are saree salesmen, for some reason...and they are always so adept at draping the saree over you (if you want that) :-)


uttara said...

Ooh I love wearing what I dissed earlier as junk too!
Lovely post and pictures....need some new bangles now!

MADHU RAO | (INDImag.COM) said...

That was such a lovely post ! Brought back fond memories of Bangalore and reminded me of "Balegaara Chennaiah" song.

Bhavani Bangles in Gandhi Bazaar was a weekly feature. But my visits , fortunately, ended standing outside the shop as I would just be chaperoning one of the sisters/cousins.

Ardra said...

Dont know if you noticed, but your post almost read like a poem! atleast some paras...
enjoyed it...

Naqvee said...

HI there..

Bangles are such an emotional accessory for a women which keeps changing with her age.. from plastic bangles in girl child's wrist, to red and yellow glass bangles in a married girl's wrist and then gold or white in an old wrinkled wrist..

when i was young bangle seller used to come at our place and all the ladies used to run to him .. it was so cute

melting horizons said...

they used to call him in my place as "Valayalkaran", and it is obviously always a man!

a very intersting blog and observation.

Poppy said...

Lovely piece - Brought back lovely memories.

My little one has slowly started off with bangles now - when we went to Trichy she "bargained" with the bangle-seller outside the temple and brought herself a dozen which she refuses to take off even now :)

And all the lingerie shops also house only men :-)

Sujatha Bagal said...

AJ, you don't know how many times I typed bangleore! :) So funny that you thought of that.

Sands, yup, they were experts at keeping the bangle whole!

R's mom, thanks!

Anon, I've started feeling the same way. :)

Chox, Nisha, haven't been to bangle stores in Hyderabad. On my list, for sure!

Kavi, am realizing that now!

Praba, hmmm, intersting!

Telugu mom, thanks and welcome to my blog!

Sujatha Bagal said...

Shoba, it's funny how we come to it later in life. Wonder why that is!

Usha, totally agree. In my case, I am rushed too. I feel like I can't take time to do anything slowly. There's always the next thing on the list to get to.

Mallika, have a great trip!

Julie, Debbie, so glad you liked it!

CA, there are pockets in the day when they are not crowded, like the time I went when I took these pictures.

M, the fact that they are all men is very intriguing. I wonder why. Poppy mentioned the same thing below.

Uttara, must be a ton of stores in London, no?

Madhu, LOL! My husband and son did the same this time around. One look inside the shop and they bolted. If they had more real estate, I would have recommended them making a lounge for the men-folk!

Ardra, thank you!

Naqvee, welcome! That's such an interesting angle to the whole bangle-wearing custom! It did no occur to me at all, but that's so true! Thanks for reading and commenting.

Melting Horizons, thank you! Welcome to my blog.

Poppy, wish I'd seen the little one doing that! That must have been something. And true - the langerie men, although I have seen a number of women too, who rule the langerie counters in Jayanagar shops.

Anonymous said...

Hey Sujatha
very nice post, this was my first visit to ur blog...This brings back my childhood memories, happy to say that we owned(My parents) a bangle shop in blore till dad used to go to Marriages and other such functions with bangles for "Bale Shastra" even I have accompanied him many times. After him, me alone also had to visit many such functions on demand by our regular customers...I was still in college feeling sad that I did not have a camera then could hav taken my shops photos....:(

Unspoken said...

NEVER in my life have I seen such a shop :)! Love it.

chests said...

That is the true bangle shop. I can't imagine all those bangle design in one shop. That is so amazing. That is a one perfect place to shop. I wish we can visit that shop.

vintage jewelery said...

Cute Bangles. All Bangles designs are different. Bhavani Bangle store is looking to be popular in the city. I wish I will go there to buy some bangles for my self.