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.
Can the new be experienced in all its dizzying and excessive newness, or do we continuously fall back on the crutches of familiarity, no matter how inept or even obsolete? Is it inevitable that we carry the burdens—of our familiar selves, homes and not-quite-homes, cities and lives—when we walk the path that can lead anywhere because we haven’t walked it ever before?
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.
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…
‘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
birdwatcher a person who watches and identifies wild birds (Merriam-Webster) a person who watches birds in their natural environment and identifies different breeds, as a hobby (Oxford Learner’s Dictionary) I am not sure if I qualify as a birdwatcher according to the above dictionary meanings—I love watching birds and observing their antics but struggle with… Continue reading It’s not about birds
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.… Continue reading Dilli ke Dukaan
The Peer (Monday) Bazaar in Nizamuddin Basti is one of the hundreds of weekly bazaars that pop up on different days of the week in different neighbourhoods of Delhi. What makes this bazaar unique is that it takes place during the day (between 9 am and 3 pm) unlike most other weekly bazaars which start… Continue reading Monday ke Monday