Thursday, September 29, 2011

Territoriality in the Indian Bazaar

I had been going to Gandhi Bazaar and wasn't tiring of it yet. There was so much going on there. I wrote about the Bazaar tour in Bangalore soon after. I think it was the flower sellers that I kept going back for. The making of garlands happened while the buying and selling took place. It was quite fascinating. We all know that there are many festivals in India. I had decided to be at the bazaar on every festival and they were coming faster than I could cope! I wrote later about an afternoon in festive Dussehra.

I had come across a paper 'Territorial Complexity in Public spaces' by Mattias Karrholm and it had set me thinking about Territoriality in the context of what I had been seeing at Gandhi Bazaar. Eventually, when a paper had to be written for a Symposium on Urban Visualities in Chennai, I chose to write about 'Territoriality in the Indian Bazaar'. The blogpost Art in Urban spaces has some of the photographs that were part of the Exhibition that accompanied this Symposium. However, I continue to think about Territoriality some months later and wonder why some questions seem more interesting than others. 

The human mind asks questions such as ‘why do birds fly?’ or ‘why do we yawn?’. We are intrigued by the phenomena that surround our everyday existence and look for answers. Often, there are no answers and sometimes an answer serves no other purpose than to satisfy our yearning to know. I ask myself, is the question of ‘Territoriality in the Indian Bazaar’ one of intrigue or of purpose?

a Vendor selling Cut-fruit marks his territory near Brigade road in Bangalore and also personalises his territory with a stuffed toy that potential customers can spot from a distance.
In our man-made environment, a spatial order is as important as a social order. There is a co-relation between the two orders located within a geographical context. What behaviour is socially and culturally acceptable and what is not? Which spatial configurations are changeable and which are not? Does the distribution of economic benefits take place in a balanced way?

We find that there is a continual effort to bring some semblance into our lives on the social and economic front in the many circles that we create in our existence and in our habitats. We have in our cities, the circles of living, the circles of work and the circles of commerce. In the circles of commerce, where we buy and sell goods for consumption, the place of exchange or the marketplace becomes a point of study and observation that draws us to explore questions of both curiousity and purpose. One asks therefore ‘Can a deeper understanding of Territoriality benefit the making of a shop, the design of a street or the planning of a city?’


Anonymous said...

:) Thank you for dropping by.. I follow your blog.. alas i am not getting any updates! :( now a days!

Indian Bazaars said...

Divenita: I've been trying to post about once in two weeks. Thanks for following the blog!

Anil P said...

An interesting thought.

I feel the reverse is also true in many cases, of spatial order determining social order, the lack of the former often the cause of conflicts.

And the India Bazaar is a place that offers ample opportunities to test this.

Once, in a lane in Dadar, an old man manning his vegetables on the sidewalk outside a shop was agitated enough to argue with a rangoli vendor who had set up his roadside stall on the road, blocking access/visibility of the old man and his vegetables.

While encroacing another's space has always been an issue insofar as territorial conflict is concerned, the approach, or accessibility of one's selling space becomes equally important.

radha said...

I guess territorial conflicts occur with most street vendors. They have their areas clearly demarcated. I am told this is true ( I am digressing) with beggars too! But I always find it hard to understand why we have a row of hardware stores, another row of computer peripherals and so on.. would it not be beneficial if they were not so close together?

Indian Bazaars said...

Anil: You bring up a very important aspect of the retail environment - accessibility/visibility of the selling space. It is something I need to focus on more!

While the street bazaar offers possibilities for the informal vendor to reach out to the passer-by, the vendors do need to develop an understanding, sometimes formalised between them or between the vendor and the police officer that can establish who gets how much visibility and for how long.

I remember asking a fruit vendor in Gandhi Bazaar in Bangalore if he paid more to the Vendor association that he was part of, a higher rent since he had a street corner location, which would have more footfalls than the vendors sandwiched between two street junctions in a linear arrangement of stalls on the Gandhi Bazaar road. He said he didn't pay extra. And, that surprised me.

Sometimes, even in a formal arrangement of shops, it is not so easy to decide who will take what location. Some years ago, in Andhra, the government set up 'Rythu bazaars' in the cities and the towns. It was a first-time experiment to bring farmers into the city to directly sell their produce in order to eliminate the middlemen.

One such rythu bazaar was planned and built in Visakhapatnam near the M.V.P.colony. The stalls were semi-enclosed and built in an outer oval and an inner oval layout. Vendors refused to occupy the stalls that were in the rear saying that the vegetable vendors located near the entrance gate got the most customers and few walked past these stalls to the ones at the back. It was difficult to solve this and a rotational arrangement was proposed whereby a vendor could occupy the front stall for one week and the rear one for the next. Not the best of solutions though. The business relationships between the vendors in a traditional bazaar become therefore an interesting area for study.

Radha: It has interested me too: why do we have a "row of hardware stores...and so on". It seems to be one of the attributes of successful retail locations - the agglomeration of similar products, the shopowners see it as a profitable exercise to encourage more footfalls in one street, to create an image of a place as being a "zaveri bazaar" or a "bamboo bazaar" providing easy access to the customer and a wider choice in one location.

It perhaps also comes from the traditional "shop-house" neighbourhood where artisans from one community lived and worked together - brass workers or silversmiths and so on. The trading activity took place in the front verandah of a house where the artisan worked and where his family lived.