Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5 Issue 94, Tuesday, December 8, 2009



LS special

Aziz Market: Sights and Sounds

I hopped out of my car and critically looked up and down the shabby building that was in front of me- Aziz Super Market. My left hand instinctively patted my pocket to check whether I have taken a note pad and a pencil (just in case). Assured that I'm prepared, I marched into the market. “Let's find out what's all the fuss about this place”, I said to myself.

Few places have been as famous as Aziz Cooperative Super Market, a complex with the ever so popular shopping mall and the residential building on top. It is not the typical shopping centre we expect to see these days- it does not have a good parking area and is not centrally air-conditioned! Yet, people of all sectors and ages of life flock to this place regularly. But why? One might wonder.

The shops
Aziz Market is a haven for book lovers. The several book stores and publication houses have an amazingly rich array of books for you. If you are looking for a rare book you can't find elsewhere, visiting Aziz Market might help. The shops sell titles on various topics and themes- translations, biographies, history, trade, philosophy and of course, literature to name a few.

Aziz Market is not only a hub for book lovers, it also boasts many boutiques and fashion houses selling innovative, vibrant, youthful and 'deshi' clothes.

An initiative partially backed by many students of CharuKala Institute, the stores offer you interesting and creative T-shirts, kurta, panjabis, etc. The prices are reasonable too. A few stores have focused on selling Bangladeshi paintings and sculptures rather than clothes. And, you also have several medical equipment shops as well…. quite a rare combination!

The changing identity of Aziz: pages or clothes?
Aziz Market has gone through massive changes, no doubt. Previously, it was mainly famous for books, but one fine day, there emerged a fashion house called Nitya Upohar. And that was the beginning. The shop prospered, and in no time, fashion houses mushroomed all over the market.

“Previously it was all about the books”, says a manager of one of the bookstores. “Now they are just a tiny portion of the whole market. Sales of books have indeed declined.” The future seems scary for many.

An owner of a shop (who wishes to remain anonymous) selling sculptures and T-shirts shares his view. “We'll have to go with the flow. You see these racks where I keep these sculptures and paintings? Previously we used to keep books here. Now we have only paintings, sculptures and, of course, T-shirts. My late father started this shop ages ago. If I do not change with time, his legacy will be threatened.”

'The grass is indeed greener on the other side'. Fashion houses are happier than ever. “Nobody can deny that more people are pouring into the market for clothes rather than books. We have DU nearby. And that explains the demand for such shops,” says one of the store- owners. Another sales person adds: “The T-shirts we have here are very unique, 'deshi' and very much affordable; thanks to the many creative students of CharuKala. Aziz Market now has a different identity altogether.”

As I was doing my research, I was also amused that one of the shops was playing a Nazrul song. You don't get this kind of thing in too many places these days, unfortunately. Aziz Market is a shrine for Bangladeshi culture and literature.

And you also see a lot of devotees visiting the shrine. Aziz Market has been the 'official' chitchat place for many celebrities. It is not uncommon to see a poet browsing through the books, or a few journalists and columnists strolling through the corridors, or actors and dramatists like Mostofa Sarwar Faruki sitting in the busy tea stalls and gossiping; or strugglers sitting in the surprisingly narrow stairway of the market dreaming big dreams.

Long time ago, Aziz Market had nothing but a few publication houses and bookstores which made it a good place for authors and poets to hang out at. They met regularly to exchange ideas and thoughts, keeping each other motivated. They still do today; the custom hasn't changed till date, it has only become stronger.

Not being a writer, actor, etc. doesn't stop you from visiting Aziz Market, though! At any point of time, you will see friends meeting up at the place. And why not? After all, Dhaka University is nearby. Moreover, the complex has a residential place, with a huge number of bachelors living there. There are many offices, a training centre, medical equipment stores and a couple of cyber cafés as well. 'Adda' is bound to happen here if not anywhere else.

So much so, a drama serial was aired on Ekushey named 'Aziz Market Shahbagh- 1000', which involved the lives of various people hanging out at the market.

Aziz Market is not the same place anymore. It has transformed itself almost completely. Nevertheless, Aziz Market still stands out in the crowd; and it stands proud, recognising the rich Bangladeshi culture and literature.

It is oblivious of its odd, old and not-so-stylish appearance, a little supercilious for being the meeting place for many renowned people for so many years, and it has grown old and wise having soaked in the stories of thousands of people who shared their joys, sorrows and secrets with each other. And it continues to file countless memories, perhaps in the narrow stairway, or in the dim corners, or at the tea stalls…

By M H Haider
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed

A bunch of spinach

I had invited a couple of very close families for dinner one Saturday. And as is wont, went about my business of planning the menu.

“Planning” is a very loose word that I am using here. It was more of browsing through random websites looking for inspiration and recipes at the least. Truth be told, I have been suffering from a severe lack of food epiphany.

To boot, I was travelling on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before the said Saturday. Which basically left me with little time to think through, little time to innovate, little time to shop.

Shopping did not worry me, as my better half is just as good as I am at that, if not better. It was the lack of a menu that bothered me. And what is worse, I was completely unable to come up with a cohesive plan.

I took off for my trip, promising my wife to mail her my thoughts on the menu and a shopping list. Neither happened as late as Friday evening, when I was sitting at the airport, waiting to catch my flight back, panicking about the impending Saturday evening.

My flight was scheduled to land around midnight, giving me no leeway there as well. I sheepishly called her and told her to buy the usual mushrooms, tomatoes, chicken, prawn, garlic, rice and basil. Very mundane. Very usual. Her apprehension was palpable. This is a usual shopping list, barring the basil. But what magic can one bunch of herbs do?

Well, I landed around midnight, tossed and turned through the night while nursing a bad stomach. Woke up next morning with a sinking feeling and no idea of how to salvage the dinner. I rummaged through her shopping from last evening. And there it was, in front of my eyes. A large bunch of the season's new spinach!

Fresh, crisp, bright, promising. Light bulbs started to flicker inside my dull brain. I looked further and unearthed a carton of milk, another regular purchase. By now I had a clear vision of a glorious way to create a centrepiece for the dinner. Spinach Florentine. The answer to my quest.

Put the milk on boil. Found a small pack of buttermilk in the fridge and emptied it into the milk. Slowly, the milk turned into soft, creamy ricotta cheese in front of my eyes. Drained in a large sieve and I was left with a big mound of the soft cheese just waiting to be pureed with the spinach.

The spinach was wilted on the stovetop and put into the food processor with the cheese. A generous grating of nutmeg, some seasoning and some crushed garlic cloves. A quick whiz later, I had a pale emerald pool of emulsion. I transferred it to a baking tray and baked it till almost set. Going with the innovative vein, I broke a few eggs on top of the puree and sprinkled some paprika on top.

It turned out to be a real face-saver. The soft yielding cheese melted into the ever-so-accommodating spinach puree. Garlic added the kick. Nutmeg mellowed down the kick. Eggs added to the silkiness.

Agreed, there was chicken, skillet baked with basil oil and poached pears in syrup. But had it not been for that bunch of spinach, my imagination would not have kicked in. I would certainly not have been writing this piece. You see, Popeye is right.



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