Far from disappearing, pedlars have a pervasive presence in cities—around busy intersections such as traffic signals, metro stations, tourist spots, bus terminals, railway stations, religious places, public parks and monuments; within residential localities, neighbourhood markets and industrial areas; outside office complexes, educational institutions, hospitals, shopping centres and even malls and supermarkets. They ply an entire gamut of trades from knife-sharpening, shoe polishing, miracle cures and ear-cleaning to providing chai and snacks, as also a wide range of commodities. This essay is a response to the images captured by Gopal in his city Mumbai, from the location of my interest as an anthropologist in forms of walking in the city as well as the associational life of streets around the locus of economic activities.
On the face of it, Patparganj’s apartments appear to be small islands, each holding together a set of people with a shared social background. And there are apartment dwellers, who manage to unlook and avoid the sea of life the islands are surrounded by, through the blinkers of their class and aspirations, shopping for vegetables and eating street food from the evasive confines of their cars or seeking the ‘happening city’ elsewhere. Yet, life here, as I have come to experience over the years, does not inevitably have to be one of isolated living confined to the apartments.
If it is indeed the same chuha, it is back with a vengeance. Its earlier avatar was well behaved. It would stealthily come out at night after Hunny went to sleep and would rarely leave telltale signs of its dinner, except sometimes half-eaten bananas. This one does acrobatics through all times of the day, leaping over masala jars and knocking them off, smashing Rooafza bottles, scurrying over the bookshelves, chomping on electricity bills and doing cartwheels on the sofa. It eats everything … potatoes, lids of Tupperware boxes, newspapers, phone chargers, books and unopened biscuit packets—you name it! It prefers to shit on the bed or on freshly laundered clothes. And it is BIG.
‘So you want to know who Maya is?’ he breaks the awkward silence. Trying not to look frightened, she clears her throat and manages to mumble a ‘Yes’. ‘The problem with you youngsters is that you don’t know the stories that rule this city. Never mind … you’re probably the only one of these people dying to meet me who’s not interested in some quick-fix solution for health, prosperity or love. You may not be aware, but you’ve come searching for a story … and I’d love to tell it … it’s been such a long while since I've told a story. But I have a condition.’ ‘What?’ she asks. ‘You cannot interrupt my storytelling and you cannot ask any questions after I’m done.’
This time Nana Saheb seems to have picked up a bigger stone than before. He aims it at the dog barking from the opposite terrace. The dog has been watching this drama of fistfuls of air being aimed at him for a week now. And he is no longer afraid of the old man’s fake… Continue reading Donkey
The hour from night to day. The hour from side to side. The hour for those past thirty. The hour swept clean to the crowing of cocks. The hour when earth betrays us. The hour when wind blows from extinguished stars. The hour of and-what-if-nothing-remains-after-us. The hollow hour. Blank, empty. The very pit of all… Continue reading Corona Diaries
‘I? I walk alone; The midnight street Spins itself from under my feet; When my eyes shut These dreaming houses all snuff out; Through a whim of mine Over gables the moon's celestial onion Hangs high.’ —‘Soliloquy of the Solipsist’, Sylvia Plath, 1956 ‘I do not know which of us has written this page.’ —Jorge… Continue reading There’s something about the street
I was gifted a cycle last year by a ‘cyclist’ friend but have used it only a couple of times, sometimes in a large park a few kilometres away from my house and a few times to buy vegetables and groceries closer home. Even as I had been warned by friends—part of a tiny minority… Continue reading I want to ride my bicycle bicycle bicycle…
Since we’re not young, weeks have to do time for years of missing each other. Yet only this odd warp in time tells me we’re not young. Did I ever walk the morning streets at twenty, my limbs streaming with a purer joy? did I lean from any window over the city listening for the… Continue reading What she thinks when she thinks about walking
‘Part of what makes roads, trails, and paths so unique as built structures is that they cannot be perceived as a whole all at once by a sedentary onlooker. They unfold in time as one travels along them...’—Rebecca Solnit Streets come alive, bit by bit, step by step, as we trace our routes along them.… Continue reading Walking in circles
Paintings by Ritika Sharma from the series Journey in Chaos. ‘Out of the way It’s a busy day I’ve got things on my mind’—Us and Them, Pink Floyd Prologue A long serpentine queue at the metro security check. The baggage machine is ‘out of order’, a cardboard notice informs passengers. Bodies nudging, fidgeting, sighing, muttering.… Continue reading City on the move, in fragments