Galle is a quiet coastal town where everybody gets about his or her business without creating a stir. It’s a Saturday and the town is flooded with tourists who have arrived to witness the second Test match between Sri Lanka and Australia played at the picturesque Galle International Cricket Stadium. A short distance away from the playground, in the heart of the Galle Fort, vendors have set up their tents and are part of a mini market which operates under the banner ‘Good Market’. Business is slow, but steady. The most important thing is that vendors seem quite at home and there is a sense of belonging with the place when one observes the smile on their faces.
Mohammed Imran sells antiques, old but valuable books and stamps. “I have a huge collection and have brought only a few to sell,” he tells this writer as he speaks to potential customers. According to Imran, the Good Market was the brainchild of the government. It was closed down some years ago and was revived last year. Now, this market is operated by a businessman. “Both locals and foreigners show interest in antiques”, he says.
He doesn’t keep a huge markup on the items in his collection because he wants his goods to move. “Unlike in the past, more people now come to Galle using the super highway. Hopefully business will improve in the future,” he adds.
He is a third generation antique seller and his dad and grandfather had their businesses in Galle itself. “There are dos and don’ts for antique sellers. My dad taught me not to buy or sell any goods bought from Buddhist temples and items made of ivory. This was before the government banned the sale of such items. The other factor is to be educated enough about antiques and to have the nose to spot bogus items,” he explains.
It’s now around 10.30 am. The sun is beginning to show its presence profoundly. But the heat is bearable possibly due to the fact that the sea is a stone’s throw away and there is a gentle breeze.
This writer quenches his thirst with a cup of tea made in a southern tea estate, famous for the low-grown black dust. There are other tempting health foods like ‘wadai’ made of kehel muwa (flower of the plantain tree) and hoppers made of red rice, manioc served with chili paste and other herbal drinks. Galle is quietly awake and getting ready for a full day of business. Everyone here seems to consider work more as a hobby rather than hard work done in an office.
Another stall which attracts a steady flow of both local and foreign customers is the art shop run by RML Ravindra and his wife JLA Devika. Ravindra does wood carvings and his wife contributes to the venture with her skills in painting. “The biggest thrill comes when foreign customers request for a change in what we paint or carve. Just the other day, a foreigner asked me why Sri Lankan artists don’t depict the elephant walking in their creations rather than show the animal in a stationary position. These foreigners have observed how majestic this animal is when it walks,” says Ravindra. He says that his wife began painting after their marriage and is now a key contributor to his business. He says that artists and woodcarvers have the potential to generate a six figure income every month if their creations can meet the standard. However, Ravindra says that he doesn’t see the next generation showing any interest to take to this craft.
Right at the entrance a pretty lass sits and grins cheerfully more than doing anything else as customers go by. The products she sells come with the assurance that they have been manufactured in keeping with the norms of organic culture. One little query about the products being sold and she rattles away. “The company which makes these products buys the produce of 3,000 farmers who live in the north. This venture is financially supported by aid that comes from Italy and Germany. The idea is to sell customers toxic-free food,” said Ruvini Nirosha who works for Rainforest Rescue International.
The Good Market in Galle allows vendors to standout as individuals while they go about selling their products. They might get ‘lost’ like children do at a sports meet if they chose to sell their products in a common market place. This place is buzzing with life and anyone walking in feels it like a gush of wind slapping
(Pics by Ravi Nagahawatte)