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.
Mumbai’s migrant gods
Thousands of shrines of varying sizes reside in the streets of Mumbai. These shrines act as markers of new settlements and localities. Most of them represent and embody the identity of the people who brought them here. But more often than not, they hold together the hopes and aspirations of migrant communities as they navigate the precarity of the life worlds that a city like Mumbai generates. The shrines act as magnets, drawing together people with shared backgrounds and attracting sometimes a set of new believers. They belong to different streams of faith, ranging from organized religions to folk, tribal and occupational forms of worship. Many of these are exclusively cared for by women like the Velankanni Matha shrines. On the other hand, roadside Hanuman shrines seem to be a favourite of young migrant men who live alone or in groups in the city.
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
If on a winter’s night, azadi…
They’re selling postcards of the hanging They’re painting the passports brown The beauty parlor is filled with sailors The circus is in town Here comes the blind commissioner They’ve got him in a trance One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker The other is in his pants And the riot squad, they’re restless They… Continue reading If on a winter’s night, azadi…
Smell and the City II
Is the future odourless? How would Delhi’s zealous planners chasing the idea of world-classness imagine the future of Khari Baoli, Asia’s oldest spice market? Would it be in the form of an ordered set of malls rising in the midst of Old Delhi, reeking of heady European perfumes and caramel popcorn, with clean marble corridors… Continue reading Smell and the City II
Smell and the City I
In the Foreword to Alain Corbin’s The Foul and the Fragrant: French Social Imagination (1986), Roy Porter writes that ‘Today’s history comes deodorized. Thanks to experts in art, architecture, and artifacts, our eyes have been opened to what the past looked like; and all who have immersed themselves in diaries, novels, and letters will have their… Continue reading Smell and the City I
There’s something about the street
‘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