Friday, February 26, 2010

Indian shop - 2

There has been a profound and rapid change in how commerce has evolved in India in the last twenty-five years. The growth of the retail industry has created new opportunities for the discerning Indian entrepreneur. The livelihood scenario that belongs to the Indian shop has changed from artisans who crafted and marketed brass pots to traders who sell plastic buckets and sintex tanks. Today, one finds traditional shopping environments that continue to sell fruits, vegetables and puja items as well as the modern shopping environments, where multi-national companies sell brands that compete in the international fashion market.

And less evident to consumers, shopping environments today present a clearer demarcation of wholesale and retail spaces, quite different from how it was in the old bazaars. This has created efficiencies in the way a modern market economy understands them, through ideas of ‘division of labour’, ‘specialisation’, and so on, but it has also expanded the distance between the people whose lives and livelihoods are scattered along the supply chain. Equally noteworthy is another kind of social distance - the segregation of residences and segregation of purchase environments that is now becoming the norm. Whereas rich and poor alike lived and shopped in the same marketplaces in the past, increasingly the modern retail environment is premised upon distinguishing between the two.

Against this backdrop, the Indian shop can be a collective memory of times past, and also an expression of the aspirations of today. Within bazaars and malls, one can look for and trace the cultural, sociological and aesthetic forms that are still evident in the patterns of commerce and trade, and the changes they are undergoing. One searches for a modern perspective for the architectural design of Indian shopping environments – the bazaars and the malls. The shop is a place of private consumption, and has been so for long. But, what used to be ‘private consumption in public spaces’ is increasingly giving way to ‘private consumption in private spaces’.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Indian shop

As the many faces of the Indian shop are revealed, one discovers a little more about the economics of trade as well as the social and cultural values of the Indian society. In previous blogposts, I have shared observations on the Fruit and Vegetable market, the Marketplace, the Fish market, the Street bazaar, the Informal sector, the Bakery and the Canal bazaar. This blog also includes notes on shopping environments such as the Weekly market, the Flower market, a Spice bazaar, the Tibetan Bazaar in Kerala and the Mall.

What is the difference between Lad Bazaar in Hyderabad and the Forum Mall in Bangalore? What are the exchange systems or price mechanisms of antique shops in Chor Bazaar in Mumbai that can be compared to the Malaysian Imported Furniture showrooms in Chennai? Is there more competition among sellers in Palika Bazaar in Delhi, than in a Satellite road mall in Ahmedabad?

Will the modern Big Bazaar's “Bargain offers” entice indians enough to forego their ritual of bargaining in a street bazaar? What does the experience of shopping in Manek chowk in Ahmedabad mean to a gujarati family? Why does Connaught Place in Delhi have popular eateries that cater to young indians with western tastes? Why does Ashram road in Ahmedabad have a blend of old and new as it hosts a Pizza outlet at one road junction and makes equally good business with the small bhel-puri stalls that dot the footpath?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bazaar in a Temple town

I think that trade in present-day temple towns is as much for international tourists as for the local or domestic pilgrims who come from nearby towns or neighbouring states. As you walk along the Chengam road in Tiruvannamalai, the temple town which is 185 km from Chennai (Tamil Nadu) and 210 km from Bangalore (Karnataka) you see the ‘Tibetan Gifts Store - Manufacturer & Wholesaler for Tibetan Jewellery, Pashmina shawls, Carpets, Cloths, etc’. There is also the ‘Authorised Forex Money Changers-Indian Boutique’ that sells postcards and cotton blouses that foreigners visiting India often buy. This is on one side of the Chengam road.

Sandalwood paste and other puja items for sale near the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai

On the other side, you see Muggulu or Kolam – freshly done floral motifs in rice powder on earth that has been settled with sprinkling of water by the lady of the house. There is the shack of the local paan-shop that continues to exist, outside one of the community water tanks or the shop ‘Manjula Coffee bar’ with the traditional copper container for the filter coffee – a container that is smeared with ash and red kumkum. The acrylic board above the shop entrance advertises ‘Brooke Bond 3 Roses Tea’.

There’s the Tailor shop and the Ironing shop inside a remnant of a stone pillared pavilion along the roadside. Further down, another tailoring shop called the ‘Swiss’ Tailor next to the ‘Ellora Hair Style’ housed in a concrete structure, its frontage protected by the shade of a peepal tree. Under this tree, a stone ganesha idol with turmeric powder all over it. Its only one of the many little shrines that one would find if one walked the Arunagiri path around the mountain in this temple town.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Consumer and Cultural relationships

I came across this website about an interesting concept. An excerpt from the site :

"A major cross-art form project exploring the new consumer and cultural relationships that are emerging as the economic centre of the world shifts towards the East. The project includes exhibitions, off site presentations, performance, film and a range of events and activities.

Far West will transform Arnolfini from an arts venue into a Concept Store, providing a unique shopping experience, exploring consumer and cultural relationships produced by the shifting of the economic centre of the world towards the East.

Part store, part Chinese-style tourist museum, part forum for consumer reflection, Far West provides customers with the experience of interacting with, producing and then purchasing, a selection of specially branded and exclusive products, ranging from ornaments to music, comics, toys, food, and artworks. In the process, customers will get an insight into the changing nature of economy, cultural hegemony, the history of certain products, and the marketing potential of regional identities.

Far West's theatrical setting, designed in collaboration with Miessen & Ploughfields Architects, Michael Lin and Gunilla Klingberg, opens up the parallel debates in both art and commerce around participation, individualism, authorship, labour, and productivity."

A link to FAR WEST

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Bazaar on a Temple street

At the street junction, a signboard that says ‘Thiru Annamalaiyar Thirukkoyil – Thiru Manjana Gopuram (South)’. The street to the right where the board points leads to the South Gopuram of the Arunachaleswarar Temple. This is what one may call the Temple Street. It has its own bazaar. There are push carts that sell plastic toys for children, for families who visit Tiruvannamalai to worship the Lord but also to rest and to enjoy a vacation. There are pushcarts with dates and halwa. There is the three feet diameter shallow bamboo basket that is balanced on the backseat of a stationery bicycle – the Indian shop that is customary of many small towns in India. It has on sale garlands of jasmine and garlands of rosepetals. There is the idli stall by the side of the plaintain bhajji stall and lungis on sale balanced on the more sturdy TVS motorcycle.

The morning conversations between the old-time traders and the old-time residents on a street in Madurai in the Meenakshi Temple zone. Conversations of this kind may have been more frequent and at the heart of bazaar culture when a bazaar was a place co-developed by the users. Today, the social distance has increased between the buyer and the seller and the bazaar is seen as a noisy, chaotic place to which the user has no sense of belonging.

I have walked the entire length of the temple walls at Tiruvannamalai. As I go past the south gopuram and towards the East-facing Rajagopuram, there are more permanent shops with corrugated asbestos roofs. Some of these sell framed pictures of deities and stone statues of nandi and ganesha. Other shops that you come across are the ones that sell brass puja items and steel utensils and shops with glass bangles. There are wholesale banana dealers in shelters with bamboo and banana leaf roof. Some shops are smaller and have on sale kumkum, turmeric powder and sandalwood. There are agarbathi or incense stick vendors and shops with aluminium pots and pans.

A Rajasthani Bhojanalaya or Eating place in the vicinity of Meenakshi Temple which is visited by both domestic tourists from all over India as well as by large numbers of international tourists. Here is a restaurant that serves north indian food in a predominantly south indian locality catering to the local people, the traders or shop owners, many of who are from gujarat and rajasthan and also to those who visit the temple as pilgrims from north india. Bazaars in temple streets in contemporary India have eating places that include the Indian chinese and the Italian Pizzeria.

I am curious to see what sells just outside the main gopuram. The most important place is the shop where you keep your footwear for a token amount while you go inside the temple barefeet. This is a shop you see in every temple street. In Tiruvannamalai, just outside the main entrance to the Arunachaleswara temple, there are two main shopping lanes – one that sells copper and brass and another that sells coconuts and flowers. I look up to read the name of a shop : ‘Gandhimati Metal Store P.V.R.S.Velliyan Chettiar & Brother – Copper, Brass vessels manufacturers & merchants and Stainless steel merchants, Sannathi St., Tiruvannamalai’. This is the main bazaar which is always full of people who come to the temple. The shop itself is constructed with metal I-sections for columns and rafters with wooden fascia board in a simple but slightly ornamental motif.

This is a bazaar on a temple street just like any other bazaar on a temple street, like the one in Mylapore in Chennai or the one adjoining the walls of the Meenakshi temple in Madurai, because it is also dotted by the Guest houses and the Lodges. Here, in Tiruvannamalai, there is the Hotel Arunachala, the Annamalai Guest house Lodge and the Abbirami hotel offering a place to rest for all those pilgrims and shoppers who are part of the temple and bazaar environment for those few days of the year.