As Still as a Statue

Thirty-five thousand people walked past K.K. Badhan (64) every opening day of the Hague Market. Badhan was almost always as still as a statue, hidden behind the dense shelves, standing in contrast with the vibrant atmosphere. 

Between two highly international neighbourhoods, Schilderswijk and Transvaal, houses The Hague Market (De Haagse Markt), an outdoor market claimed one of Europe’s largest. Over 500 stalls open every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday inviting visitors in and out of The Hague, who look for a most reasonable rate, for an endless selection from any Hindustani spice to a USB-stick. In the middle of this melting pot welcoming people from all walks of life, is Badhan.  


On the third walkway near the center of the Haagse Market are three household appliances shops that belong to Badhan’s boss. Badhan has been taking charge of one of the three stalls for over a year now. In his shop, people can find a massive variety of household products situating among the shelves and hanging on the wall: cookware in one corner, beauty products the other, just right next to the bathroom appliances, etc. Old ladies push their trolly-bag on wheels around to find the right utensils. The little girl yanks off from her father’s hand to stop by at the sight of a doll at the very back of the shop. The stands can cater to the need of even the most selective visitors.  

Badhan stands remarkably behind his glass shelf where he places the cash box, as if he is the guardian of a citadel. His robust figure might scare off first comers, the ruby red turban and thick grey beard further overshadow his gaze.

Badhan rarely flashes a smile.

But once you get to know him, he can be one of the friendliest people in the market, who love small talks with passerby about any given topic, sandwiched among more his conversation with the customers regarding price inquiries. He talks with more liveliness than ever, from his pilgrimage to New Delhi every spring, to where to buy the cheapest items of clothing in Chinatown.

Standing from 9 to 5 is not an easy job. No chair is in sight in the condense space. The guardian of his citadel takes only one toilet break during the day when he quickly snatches something to chew along the way back. Badhan becomes evidently busier after his Pakistanian colleague quitted the job, whom he had been standing alongside for only less than a month. Badhan does not relent at the usual sight of colleagues who comes and goes. 

The busiest hours are usually from midday to 3 pm. Facing an endless flow of people queuing up to pay, the man barely stops for more than a minute. If it is not for the crowd, he then puts his entire focus constantly tracking every shelf to stock up running-out products.

In the other hours, however, he can be unimaginably calm and still. But it is not to underestimate the workload of this merchant in the busiest market in The Hague. When there is no customer in plain sight, his gaze never leaves the CCTV screen placing right in front of his glass stand. Nothing he hates more than petty thefts. He is no way quick enough to catch all the teenagers stealing small items from all corners of the large space Badhan cannot always oversee. Fortunately, the incident does not happen very often.  

His stand can be quiet, as quiet as himself. Badhan appears especially shy in stark contrast with the yelling merchants from the fish stalls or his neighbors blasting Turkish music from the amplifiers. Silent as he is, he speaks 8 languages, but all are “broken”, Badhan laughs off his unassuming achievement. Broken English and Dutch, but enough for him to express himself to the customers, with the assistance of a lot of hand gestures. 

“Everybody needs me.”, he replies as he swiftly rearranges the items misplaced by previous customers. Outside of the official operating hours of the market, including the evenings in Mon-Wed-Fri-Sat, Badhan operates his repair service. He basically handles anything people order him to, from the creaky bathroom’s door at a friend’s daughter’s house to the floor of his neighbor that needs laminating.   


5pm. The irreconcilable contrast between the daylight scene of the market turned whoever passing by the market during its limelight shiver. Badhan’s stall and that of his boss were the latest to close down in the entire market.

Badhan finally could afford some rare minutes for small chit-chat with the other merchants. He could then put his guard down and truly smile with both his eyes. Badhan had been refusing to hold a full conversation during the busy hours. Then, he spoke with everything he could, his gaze, his hands and his whole body.

The linguistic talent indeed reflects his lifelong journey from India, to the Middle East, and now settling down in The Hague. Badhan traveled the globe after he received his Bachelor’s degree in Finance in Northern India. “Circumstances,” he again avoided a full remark. One thing was clear: the plight of corruption having taken place home drove him off, far. Seemingly, it was not that malpractice did not follow his footsteps. 

Badhan became more active than ever, he grew as red as his turban. The current shop was not where he worked when he first made an attempt to be a part of the marketlife. Before, he had applied for a clothing stall without any boss, located right around the corner of his current stall. The market’s administration process kept him waiting for months at a time and refused to give him a permit in the end. A similar process happened in his second attempt to open a children’s shoe shop. When he tried to operate as a van driver for the merchants in the market, he believed he was also bullied for the same reason. Badhan looked straight and intently into the past: “They stole my stall, then they stole my car, parts by parts.” 

Badhan looked straight and intently into the past: “They stole my stall, then they stole my car, parts by parts.”

Badhan pointed his finger at the people “who sit all day at the office”. His hand gesture was unbelievably fast as with his raising pitch. The usual calm and serene Badhan did not flinch for a second and talked non-stop, as if he has to speak for himself and for other silenced merchants who had had to withstand the injustice for years. His scattered English was enough to convey to us his belief that the market administrators were taking advantage of his insufficient Dutch language to pick up on him, and made up reasons to disqualify him from signing a stall. And he was not the only one, but all other vendors who were immigrants were maltreated coming to getting permits and with the rates of their stands, comparing to the other white Dutch stallholders. 


Badhan took in another deep, unhesitant breath. 

He is, nevertheless, happy, despite the circumstances. He secures a weatherproofing stand and has no major dissension with his boss and other merchants.  He is able to keep himself busy and feed his family, and will retire in a few years. Most importantly, he is able to satisfy his spiritual living. We are just surviving, but not living, without a nurtured spiritual life, believed Badhan. Badhan has been praying every day since the day he could speak his native Hindi and visited his temple in Amsterdam every Sunday, a very rare day when he got a break. With his wife, Badhan went back to India every year to pay a visit to their priest. 

Badhan managed to give a peaceful smile in the end. There was nothing more peaceful than observing him biking into the utmost serene darkness, to his well-prepared dinner at home with his wife, awaiting.

Laine Cho

Leave a Reply