Sunday, February 03, 2013

a Street corner in Tiruvannamalai

It’s eight in the morning. I’m at a street corner in Tiruvannamalai, at the junction where the Asaliamman Koil street meets the Tiruvoodal street. There are trucks, bullock carts and people all going about their morning routine. As I sit here, I wonder ‘Are there footpaths in the town of Tiruvannamalai?’ I look around to see if there is a footpath here. There isn’t.

what I see from where i'm sitting at the junction of two streets

I’m sitting on the steps of a shop. Steps of shops just begin or end at the edge of the road. The edge of the road belongs to walkers, to two-wheelers that have parked themselves there, to pushcarts selling ginger and to coconut-sellers on bicycles. The shops are just beginning to open up. Some of the shops have a small truck or a tempo parked in front of them as goods for the day arrive.

This is looking towards the temple and going towards Car street. Many shops aren't open yet but there's already a lot of movement on the street. 

The road curves at a right angle creating a large, triangular ‘no man’s land’ between the curve of the road and the straight line of shops from both directions. At the corner, there is a woman selling banana leaves, raw bananas and the banana stem. She keeps herself busy, sprinkling water on the leaves, cutting the long leaves to make them into two. Nearby, the woman selling flowers tells me that the market is open 24 hours. There are wooden carts with rubber tyres drawn by bullocks that bring goods into the market.

Here, one can see the golden roof of the shrine to the left and the Arunachala hill beyond. The architecture is more 'contemporary vernacular' - concrete one-storeyed constructions that use a mix of elements all together - the arch, the jaliwork, the steel railing and the corrugated fibreglass roof.

There are people about and some making conversation. I can see them, but not hear them. There are no conversations to be heard, just the loud honking of the Tamil Nadu State Road Transport Corporation buses. Just sometimes, when there isn’t a bus passing by and a bullock cart goes by, you hear the bells on the bullocks that drive the goods cart. There are two-wheelers with no silencers and autorickshaws that make louder sounds than the two-wheelers; schoolgirls go by silently on their bicycles.

Looking towards Car street, there are flower vendors in the foreground - the biggest business at this hour of the day.

On this crowded morning, a monkey comes onto the street as if out of nowhere, climbs up the side of a shop’s collapsible shutter and disappears from sight. A two-wheeler stops and the woman selling banana leaves has a customer. The two-wheeler is so convenient. You can stop anywhere, make your purchases while you are still sitting on it and then move on.

This market surrounds the area around the Arunachaleswara temple that the town is known for. And, everywhere there are smaller temples, smaller shrines, where people come to pray. These shrines are painted in bright colours. The one at this street corner has a golden roof.

The Palani hotel is doing good business. The restaurant can be identified from its large, red nameboard but for most passers-by, it’s the copper pot with steam coming out of it that tells you that tea is available here. Another banana leaf seller sharpens his knife by rubbing it a few times against the tar road in front of him. Two cows cross the street.

The Lorry corner at Gopal Naicken street. 

I came across other street corners in Tiruvannamalai which seemed to have become the center of bazaar activity. For instance, there was a corner which was the hub for lorries arriving with wholesale goods. At this junction was an old heritage building that was the office of the Agro Inputs Division of EID Parry (India) Ltd. This was on the Gopal Naicken Street. There was also the Sri Venkateswara Lorry Booking office at this corner. It was a relatively large corner junction making it possible for 3-4 trucks to park here as they unloaded the goods.

The weighing scales occupy space on the street. It is convenient to unload and to measure what is purchased as soon as it arrives. 

The street corner in Tiruvannamalai is as informal an urban space as one can imagine. As a vendor on the street, you take the space you find. If anyone questions you, you put up some resistance. Only for a little while though. If the questioning goes longer, you do not give up. You just move. To another street and another street corner.

The shrine typical of a Lorry drivers neighbourhood. 

In his essay, ‘For whom is City Design: Tactility versus Visuality’, Ken-Ichi Sasaki mentions that Japanese architects have two technical terms designating types of corner: ‘de-zumi’, literally ‘projecting corner’ and ‘iri-zumi’ or ‘drawn back corner’. Sasaki says that architect Yoshinobu Ashiwara insists on the use of this ‘drawn back corner’ and proposes planning many such spaces for the city.

The EID Parry building that houses their Agro Inputs office in Tiruvannamalai.

In India, we seem to have already this ‘iri-zumi’ or ‘drawn back corner’. We need to only become aware of it and choose how we will use them. For now, it is not the planners who think about them or who use them, nor the administrators. It is the walkers and the consumers of our informal urban spaces who transform these corners into ‘spaces of commerce’ and much more. 

Related Posts:


radha said...

Since the administrators do not seem to be doing much, I wonder if a change can be brought about if the traders take matters in hand collectively. Bring a sense of order, civic sense. It would bring in more consumers, more trade.

Indian Bazaars said...

Radha: After talking to the traders at Gandhi Bazaar in Bangalore, I found that they have come together some years ago to form a street vendors association to reduce the harassment from the Police by negotiating with the Municipality a price for being able to have their pushcarts on the street. However, they have actually begun to occupy more of the footpaths than they did earlier and the local residents are upset with them for both - appropriating more space and for being rude to residents. The cleanliness of the street is not something they are able to take responsibility for.

In other parts of the city, street vendors are organised too, but not so much able to bring civic sense. I do agree with you that it would bring in more consumers if they took the responsibility themselves. As someone from LabourNet pointed out to me - for the Street vendor, time is money and they found it difficult to get street vendors to be interested in forming self-help groups even for better financing options.