A Market of Thieves
The area behind Central Station is divided into streets with quaint names such as Rattan Bazaar, Flower Bazaar, China Bazaar and Mat Bazaar. One among these is Evening Bazaar Road which branches off Poonamallee High Road opposite the Madras Medical College and leads you to George Town.
In early days, this was where a makeshift market came up every evening with just about any kind of goods available for sale. Dense crowds would descend on the place and pickpockets would make merry. Often the unwary would see their own possessions on sale as they reached the end of the road! The place therefore also came to be called Thieving Bazaar. Because these thefts took place in a hush hush manner, the place also acquired an Urdu name – Guzili Bazaar, coming from the word Guzal meaning private or secret.
Incredibly, the Bazaar also spawned its own literature. In those days of no radio and very few newspapers, the news of the day would be disseminated by balladeers who would compose songs on them and perform in this area. The songs would be printed on cheap paper and sold to passers-by and today they form an invaluable source of information on the city as it existed in late 19th and early 20th centuries. These came to be called Guzili songs and scholar AR Venkatachalapathy has recently published a full volume on their development and impact on public life. Everything from the hanging of Bhagat Singh to the fire at the Park Town Fair was grist to the Guzili mill.
Evening Bazaar is not without its stately buildings either. The English of Madras, spared as they were of the horrors of the 1857 Mutiny, offered thanksgiving to God by building Memorial Hall here. This structure, built in the Classical style to the designs of George Winscom and Col. Horsely was completed in 1860 and is part of the Bible Society complex of buildings. It is largely used as a venue for discount sales of garments and pottery now. The Christian Literature Society Building is a neighbour to Memorial Hall and is also in the same Classical style. Opposite the Hall stands the Park Town Post Office (now the Head Post Office), one of the older post offices in the city.
Today this road forms a vital artery connecting congested George Town with the rest of the city. The Guzili Bazaar has vanished though a remnant of it still operates between Central Station and the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Evening Bazaar Road however does not lack hustle and bustle thereby giving an indication of what it was like in its heyday.