Crafts of Indian Streets | Invisible Cities

Apr 2015

Invisible Cities | BLOG

 

“…If there are no vehicles on the road, no people sitting or standing in the street, if no one can be seen, the tools of their trade in hand, leaving for work or coming back home, if no street vendor ambulates the streets, if there is no path leading from your home to the workplace, from your house to someone else’s home, what image of time and space, then, will the mind conjure? Such would be the moments when roads, streets and crossroads get effaced from ones imagination of the city…”

 – Eleven Streets, CyberMohalla Ensemble

In most Indian cities, public life is lived on the streets and livelihoods earned on them. Walking through an Indian street, it is not uncommon to stop and have chai at a corner stall, buy flowers from a woman selling them from her basket on the pavement, and get a shoe fixed from the neighborhood mochi.

This photo essay aims to bring into the spotlight some of those invisible and seemingly old-school crafts and occupations that are carried out on our cities’ streets everyday – many of which often go unnoticed and are now being affected by newer urban development paradigms in Indian cities.

These crafts form an integral part of the Indian society and economy. Historically, and even today in many parts of cities, these trades form a part of the fabric of the culture where a visit to the corner tea stall was when the men caught up on office gossip and customizing the sharpness of a kitchen knife marked the victory of a domestic day. Public streets that are more susceptible to pedestrian traffic and intimate and informal social interactions allow for trades of this sort to continue thriving.  Most new development projects within Indian cities, however, boast of wide sweeping roads lined by high boundary walls surrounding gated residential enclaves and commercial properties. Increasingly, newer roads within cities are being designed for vehicles with little concern for providing a safe and inviting pedestrian realm, effectively disallowing these trades to be practiced by virtue of them being dependent on a particular street culture. The lack of street fronting activity results in a reduction of foot traffic, which in turn results in a lack of customers patronizing smaller crafts and trades such as the ones shown in this essay.

 

A locksmith attends a phone call while waiting for his first customer on a Saturday morning at Gandhi Bazar Road in Basavangudi, Bangalore.

A locksmith attends a phone call while waiting for his first customer on a Saturday morning at Gandhi Bazar Road in Basavangudi, Bangalore.

 

A salesman arranges his display of freshly sharpened knives for sale at his cart at K.R.Market in Bangalore.

A salesman arranges his display of freshly sharpened knives for sale at his cart at K.R.Market in Bangalore.

 

Two parrots sit huddled in a cage while the fortune teller chats with a friend outside the St. Mary’s Basilica in Shivaji Nagar, Bangalore.

Two parrots sit huddled in a cage while the fortune teller chats with a friend outside the St. Mary’s Basilica in Shivaji Nagar, Bangalore.

 

Darzis (tailors) take a tea-break in K.R.Market, Bangalore

Darzis (tailors) take a tea-break in K.R.Market, Bangalore

 

A chai-waala (tea salesman) prepares afternoon tea for all the shop-owners in the area outside a boarded up shop front alongside a stall selling rakhees in the Chandni Chowk market in Delhi.

A chai-waala (tea salesman) prepares afternoon tea for all the shop-owners in the area outside a boarded up shop front alongside a stall selling rakhees in the Chandni Chowk market in Delhi.

 

Women outside a local grocery store sort and peel vegetables for sale in R.T.Nagar, Bangalore.

Women outside a local grocery store sort and peel vegetables for sale in R.T.Nagar, Bangalore.

 

A man selling colorful paper discs adds to the color of the street as he walks around selling his wares in Chandni Chowk market, Delhi.

A man selling colorful paper discs adds to the color of the street as he walks around selling his wares in Chandni Chowk market, Delhi.

 

The owner of a small stationary store in Chandni Chowk market in Delhi waits for his first customer for the day.

The owner of a small stationary store in Chandni Chowk market in Delhi waits for his first customer for the day.

 

A paan-waala prepares a post-lunch concoction for a customer on a Wednesday afternoon in Chandni Chowk market, Delhi.

A paan-waala prepares a post-lunch concoction for a customer on a Wednesday afternoon in Chandni Chowk market, Delhi.

 

Auto-rickshaw waalas take a break while waiting for customers under a tree decorated with the colors of the Karnataka flag in Chamarajpete, Bangalore.

Auto-rickshaw waalas take a break while waiting for customers under a tree decorated with the colors of the Karnataka flag in Chamarajpete, Bangalore.

 

A phool-waala prepares flower baskets outside a gurudwara on Chandni Chowk road, Delhi.

A phool-waala prepares flower baskets outside a gurudwara on Chandni Chowk road, Delhi.

 

A man selling damroos (small drums) walks down the street in Chikpet, Bangalore.

A man selling damroos (small drums) walks down the street in Chikpet, Bangalore.

 

Retired men enjoy a relaxing afternoon of gossip in 4th Block, Jayanagar, Bangalore.

Retired men enjoy a relaxing afternoon of gossip in 4th Block, Jayanagar, Bangalore.

 

A pani-puri waala looks on at the chaos around him on Chandni Chowk road, Delhi.

A pani-puri waala looks on at the chaos around him on Chandni Chowk road, Delhi.

 

A pandit steps outside the temple after a Makar Sankranti prayer in Malleshwaram, Bangalore.

A pandit steps outside the temple after a Makar Sankranti prayer in Malleshwaram, Bangalore.

 

A woman makes her last sale of vegetables on Gandhi Bazar Road, Basavangudi, Bangalore.

A woman makes her last sale of vegetables on Gandhi Bazar Road, Basavangudi, Bangalore.

 

The new Indian street. An electrical pylon dominates the median flanked by wide roads on either side leaving much to be desired for the pedestrian realm on 1st Main Rd, KIADB Export Promotion Industrial Area, Whitefield, Bangalore.

The new Indian street. An electrical pylon dominates the median flanked by wide roads on either side leaving much to be desired for the pedestrian realm on 1st Main Rd, KIADB Export Promotion Industrial Area, Whitefield, Bangalore.

 

Sneha Mandhan is a recent graduate of the Master of City Planning program at MIT and is currently working as an Urban Planner at Sasaki Associates.

Invisible Cities is a Tanqeed blog that seeks to explore alternative discourses on the urban question in cities of the Global South. For pitches and submissions to the blog, please contact fizzah.sajjad@gmail.com, halabashirmalik@gmail.com and editors@tanqeed.org. 

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