Dilli ke Dukaan

Delhi, like all cities, is animated by its large numbers and diverse kinds of vendors who populate its streets, alleys, pavements and bazaars. These vendors provide cheap (or not so cheap) goods and services and make for convenient shopping across classes, but more importantly, they enliven and embellish the otherwise plain streets, creating their raunaq. Lumped together into the broad category of street vendors, they are often reduced to a statistic in the informal economy. But they have their own unique stories of living and working in the city. The work they do, while precarious, is neither easy nor unskilled. Many friends and acquaintances of mine who cannot understand my obsession with street vendors and weekly bazaars of Delhi ask me, ‘sab ek jaise nahin hote kya? (‘Aren’t they all the same?’) Through this photo essay, I am sharing some street ‘shop’ designs—the designs are not simply a matter of making the wares more attractive but also highlight the quirks and individualities of vendors as well as their specific skills.

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‘Off with their heads!’ Shops in the Som Bazaar of Madhu Vihar in east Delhi. Vendors in these itinerant bazaars spend a long hours setting up their shops, some of which are quite elaborate, and carefully displaying their wares before opening for business. In the foreground is a shop whose frame is created by tying up aluminum poles from which mannequins are hung. Note the alternating colours of the kurtas.
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Mobile modern art. A vegetable vendor on his way to the Som Bazaar. His thela is used both for transporting his wares and as his shop at the bazaar site. I love the abstract painting on his thela.
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Red is not a colour. A jamun seller walking through the lanes of Kailash Colony. Note the contrast between the red tarpaulin and the jamuns, and the lovely design created using green leaves and white champas. Photograph courtesy of Misha Oberoi.
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Galactic hotdogs. An unusually shaped thela selling hotdogs stuffed with mashed potato and paneer and served with fiery green chutney. The vendor got the thela made in this particular design and was planning to get it repainted before Diwali. Photograph courtesy of Sarover Zaidi.
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The heart of the matter. When a friend and I first passed by this vendor, the rose petals were scattered on the peas. On our way back, we saw that they had been transformed into a heart with an arrow. He smiled when we told him that his shirt was matching his peas and then blushed shyly when we asked, ‘Kya ho gaya bhaiyya sab theek toh hai’ (What happened, all well?’), referring to the heart. Photograph courtesy of Sarover Zaidi.
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Body shop. A vendor selling earrings in the Bhogal Mangal Bazaar. His shop comprises of two boards hanging from his neck. He moves through the bazaar and stops at different points. He balances the boards while holding a battery-operated light in one hand and using the other hand to pack earrings for his customers.
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The chatter shop. Vendor selling paan and cigarettes in the New Friends Colony Community Centre. He starts business at seven in the evening and is open till four in the morning. He moves close to the adjacent Surya Hotel after the market closes, catering to late-night clubbers. He sells chai during the winter months, providing succour to people in late-night ATM queues. He loves this market because people stop by to chat with him, but I think customers are attracted as much by his stories.

—Samprati

All photographs, unless  mentioned otherwise,  ©Chiragh Dilli.

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