Monday, November 14, 2011

Walking thru’ Chickpete

I had a printout of the google map of Chickpete that I studied quickly before I set out. It looked like I could start at the and then walk through the many streets and come out towards the Majestic Bus stand at the other end. It was tempting to go into and around the as I neared it. I had been there before. Always a hustle of activity, with its fruit and vegetable vendors making brisk sales almost at all times of the day! I loved watching that.

I was trying to be focused that day. So, knowing from my map that taking Avenue road would be a good point of entry into chickpete, I started out. As I walked here, there were stationery shops, diwali cracker shops, jewellery shops and all kinds of other shops. The footpaths are not so wide but there ARE footpaths and they had no encroachments. There is an interesting article Narrow avenue, broader minds at Citizen Matters that talks about Avenue road and the communities who live and work here.

The place was crowded at 11.30 in the morning. I got to a “circle” and took a left towards Balepet. A four-way road junction was being referred to as a “circle” whenever I asked for directions. “You will come to a circle, take a right there” someone would guide. There was no circular traffic island or roundabout, just the chaos of a four-way junction without a centrepoint identified.

Soon, I came across a Mutt building and then, some time later saw a Jain dharamshala. These were old buildings – the only ones with elements of vernacular architecture and seemed like they’d been here for many years. That suddenly took me into the past and I began to look at every new façade I passed with a different eye and an imagination of what it might have earlier been before it became a place of “grand sale” and “bumper offer”

What was Chickpete like fifty years before? Was the fading away of the vernacular architecture also a fading away of the traditional shopping culture? Had there been a traditional shopping culture? Were the streets less crowded then? Had there been horsecarts on the avenue road and not the loud, honking autorickshaws that deafened me from sensing the past or contemplating the future?

There seem to be similarities between inner city cores in our cities – Chickpete has characteristics that remind me of Georgetown in Chennai or the Crawford market area in Mumbai. I’ve written earlier at a Street corner in Mumbai about how in the Indian city, the bazaar has been the nucleus of the city growing into many intersecting streets that tell a story of livelihoods and a story of the city's evolution.

I was nearing yet another edge of the Chickpete market precinct and the walk had been about getting a feel of the maze of the streets that made it this dense shopping experience – both in physical and cultural terms – layers of everyday life that unfolded itself in front of you with every step and every thought that time took forward for you.

I knew I was coming back again soon. It was the next day that this happened. I was now at the Mysore Bank entering Avenue road from the other end. There was informal vending all over the place. Many many book titles looking at you from the footpath curb where stands balanced themselves and the books on them. Many booksellers of secondhand books occupied the sidewalks. Were they a spill-over from the formal shops? No, these were independent street vendors, for whom public space was where their livelihoods were anchored.

Suddenly, today, it seemed as if Chickpete was only about the informal sector. Nothing else was as predominant as this incredible range of things on sale – plastic flowers, bags of all kinds, dryfruits, sunglasses, what-not. There was street food of all kinds – from boiled groundnuts to cut-fruit stalls that were on push-carts that stood in the middle of the street sometimes, it really was sometimes the middle or at least half-way to the middle of the road!

I continue to ponder about this marketplace also after my walking around is done. What was a typical street in Chickpete, if one were to do an anatomy of it? It was this undefinable mix of pedestrian, street food vendor, car, autorickshaw, imitation barbie dolls positioned on parked two-wheelers or some other attractive item for sale – all put together – bringing back memories of the dizzying hand movements of the street vendor in old-time calcutta as he would mix the jhal-muri in that tin container with the aroma of mustard oil flowing towards you to tell you that the mixing was good and right!

If you were to walk through Chickpete in the morning, any time before 10am when the shops begin to open, it is quite another place. The streets are rather empty and you might see pigeons perched in the middle of the road, as I saw this morning as I chose to explore the streets of the Pete area when business has not yet begun here. You see tender coconut vendors on bicycles parked momentarily, sipping their morning tea alongwith street sweepers. There are newspaper vendors who have the news laid out for you on the steps of the merchant establishments.

In the morning, you can walk freely with the sun coming in and gently lighting up the street facades that you now see more easily since you are not jostling your way through the street crowds. There is a Nankatai vendor with a bicycle, who is stocking up fresh baked biscuits into a large glass jar for the corner Paan shop, who sells snacks and the paan. There are empty white, wooden shelves along the white wall of a building, which I had seen the day before covered with many books. I see them now in this morning light, waiting for their owner to come fill them again for this day and waiting for those who will read the books for their stories, in a way that others would read the city through walking its streets.

Read about:
Walking in Lille
Faces in the Bazaar


Anoop said...

"What was Chickpete like fifty years before?"

Here's a photo of Avenue road in the 1930's -

Indian Bazaars said...

Anoop: Thanks for this link! And, for leading through it, to the Hindu image archives!

....Petty Witter said...

Oh I love markets and would love to visit this one. thanks for such an interesting insight.

radha said...

Each city has its own Chickpete. And even if you have walked the same streets 20 years ago, it just seems hard to imagine it was ever that way!! So used to the crowd and chaos that we have now got used to! And just a glimpse of an old structure can send you back in time. Lovely post.

Arti said...

I dont remember if I have visited the place, maybe many years ago...
But that is what has become of most of the Indian Bazaars, they are crowded with shops, pedestrians, temporary shops on the pavements... And talking about nankhatie made me hungry...
Have a nice day, your posts on the Indian Bazaars are so vivid and interesting.