(This was written on 11/11/12)
I went shopping in Manek Chawk, Tran Darwaja (three gates) area of Karnavati (Ahmedabad) today. In American parlance this would be called downtown.
It was a veritable sea of humanity and vehicles of all shape and color. Traffic was so intense that pedestrians were vying for a foothold along with scooters, motor bikes, bicycles, rickshaws, cars, tempos and everything else on four wheels. There were shouting match a galore and nilly willy I got in an argument with a motor bike driver who found fault with us hapless pedestrians; when he kept telling me to move to the side, when there was really no side to move to, I had to ask him, if he wanted me to walk over his and other drivers’ heads or would he be rather satisfied by driving over all of us. At times I thought, no matter how much I tried to be careful, a wheel was going to run over my foot. Fact that this is Deepawali time, did not help the matters.
I was told to watch my wallet and there were signs all over the place not to put one’s purse or wallet in the shopping bag. I had divided my few thousand rupees in two pant pockets and was constantly on guard; however, if one would have been able to take it from my pocket in that dense crowd where it was hard to even know where your limbs were, he/she would have well deserved it!
In a sense it was a microcosm of what Bharat is all about. Intense struggle and competition to stay afloat and survival of the fittest. No niceties here, no “thank you” or “excuse me” here. It was sheer sense of self preservation.Another aspect was the varieties of products available. For those who do not know Karnavati or Manek Chawk area, this is mostly, on the road vendors markets competing with super crowded, small stores.
You can buy clothes, shoes, artificial and real jewelry, Gold, fire crackers, sweets, decoration items, books, stationery, utensils, fast food, construction items, vegetables, fruits, medicines, flowers, perfumes, furniture- you name it and it is there. These markets spread over less than 0.5 square miles caters to all economic strata, except the super rich or snobs. Amongst all these, there are Mandirs as well as Masjids too and cows find their own way!
It was interesting to see a hawker shouting sale of a Rs. 80 items for Rs. 60 and exhorting this as the last day of the sale. I have no doubts that were I to go there tomorrow, he would be still repeating that same, last day of sale pitch!Similarly a footpath vendor from whom I bought artificial flowers claimed that it was his “Boni”, meaning it was the first sale of the day while he had already sold to two customers in front and ahead of me! This is Karnavati and this is Bharat- as the song goes, I love my India.
Another interesting facet of this “free” enterprise is that a majority of vendors and shopkeepers are Muslims but the buyers are mostly Hindus. As a matter of fact this area is known to be a Muslim fortress for ages. Same people who kill each other during riots, do the business amicably in peaceful times. It is a human paradox.
Observing all these in a span of two hours, I felt that someone should do a Ph.D. on the dynamics of Manek Chawk and Tran Darwaja market. It would surely bring out interesting and hidden facts of this at least, 500 years old market.
At he end of the day, looking to the total traffic indiscipline and chaos, I felt that Bharat could not be a super power in true sense of the word, no matter how affluent it becomes. But then again perhaps, its vitality remains rooted in chaos and not the orderliness of the West to which I am accustomed after spending better part of my life outside Bharat.