Maximum utilisation of space is practical up to the point it becomes a nuisance for others. Yet, bustling marketplaces are all about not letting an inch go waste, observes Radha Prathi.
Shopping malls that boast of selling everything under the sun under one roof in posh localities with international ambience are busy becoming the order of the day across Indian cities. If this new fascinating face is one side of the contemporary Indian market, the conventional Indian hotspots of shopping have not been erased completely. Each and every Indian city worth its salt, does boast of marketplaces and shopping centres where thousands of shops sell their wares from spaces that sometimes measure 2 x 4 square feet, sometimes even lesser.
No more space
If you have ever had the experience of visiting wholesale markets, vegetable or flower markets or even retail outlets in the busier commercial areas of Indian cities, you must have certainly observed how every inch of space is occupied by the shopkeepers. Shops and their wares seem to be piled over each other and jostling against one another in a precarious manner. Small lanes popularly known as ‘Gullies’ lead into a maze of little lanes that house innumerable shops selling all kinds of ware to form the general pattern of most marketplaces. Yet ,a visit to these places can fetch you the best bargain for the best of goods at highly competitive rates.
While this happens to be the side of the coin that the customers see, the sellers themselves have their own reasons for functioning in this chaotic manner. A talk with several shopkeepers and shop owners in the Chickpet, Balepet, BVK Iyengar street, Nagarathpet, Rajah Market and Avenue road area, which forms the oldest market area in Bangalore, revealed a lot of fascinating information on the pros and cons of this arrangement which is seemingly chaotic but apparently very well organised and co-coordinated among the shopkeepers and the residents of the mentioned areas.
In order to get to the crux of the matter, it is necessary to take at least a cursory peek into the history of such marketplaces which more or less have similar origins no matter where they have been formed. It is important to remember that in the absence of present-day communication and transport facilities, buyers and sellers of goods decided to congregate at a marketplace on a specific day of the week in order to get on with their transactions. Over a period of time, some of the moneyed merchants decided to build their homes that would not only take care of their needs for accommodation but could also function both as their godowns and shops. This trend was well received by fellow merchants who constructed their homes in such a way that the front area of their homes was lined with shops.
While the more affluent retained the shop area to sell their products, some of them started renting out or leasing out the extra premises to small-time shopkeepers. The pricing and the quality of the goods attracted customers towards these shops like swarms of bees towards a pot of honey and the owners of these spaces decided to cash in on the demand and rented out and sometimes even sold tiny pieces of space to fellow dealers. The house owners extended the premises upwards, sideways and every which way. As they built a few floors above their existing structures, they found that most of the times the resultant look was not exactly neither convenient nor complimentary as the unattractive attachments were incorporated wherever space permitted them to do so.
Nevertheless, the handsome income raked in by these ugly appendages swept aside all the incidental troubles that came their way. What started as a trend to overcome demand and making optimum utilisation of the available space, is now proving to be a menace to many a landowner in these areas, while the same situation is proving to be favourable to some.
Kishan Das, a 76-year-old merchant, one of the oldest residents and wholesale dealers in acrylic products, came to Bangalore as a little boy of 13, with his father. He remembers the market area as a reasonably well laid out area with trees, temples, and wells and fairly well paved roads and a good drainage system, but as time passed, every inch of available space came to be occupied by shopkeepers who took the place on rent.
Paying the price
Today, the scene has changed and as many pointed out in hushed tones, exorbitant land prices have become the order of the day. Many landowners, shop owners and shopkeepers who are utilising spaces after paying hefty sums as rent, poured their grievances and their fears out on conditions of strict anonymity. Most shop owners conceded that the thoughtless greed for more income with minimum investment has proved to be their nemesis. Tenants who have been around for several decades, penny-pinch when rents are raised and happily pass over their shops to their sons and sometimes even sell the shops pretending to the rightful owners. Some tenants who have bought slices of the building, have been known to sub-let their premises, making it impossible to reach them when they are required for completing legal formalities when they want to sell their land.
Absence of khata and irregularities in payment of commercial taxes, has added to the roaring confusion and disorderliness of the place. Besides legal hurdles, the residents and tenants of these areas conceded that the divide in the joint families of the subsequent generations, has led to fragmentation of property, adding to constant skirmishes amongst themselves. While some shopkeepers dread the thought of dealing with the brutalities of the underworld in the process of claiming their rights, many others have the privilege of having the cake and eating it too.
As one youngster Mangal Chand pointed out, the tenants and owners alike, utilised the available space in the most advantageous manner as possible. When shops closed for the night, the premises on the exterior double up as bedrooms or kitchens for the people who maintain pavement shops, while the interiors served as a storeroom overnight.
Several teenagers like him, who belong to the third or fourth generation of shopkeepers, are enamoured by the outside world. They are seriously considering the prospects of winding up their family business and moving to greener pastures as they are now empowered by education and exposure to the globalised world. They are increasingly becoming aware of the need for ventilation, greenery and hygienic surroundings, which can give a facelift to their business.
Of late, some of the old-timers have given way to this new wave of thought and as a result, several renovations, re-constructions and registrations are happening all over the place. The commercial tax office and the city corporation, which have been watching the metamorphoses, are hoping that matters will get better if all the shops register themselves and subscribe for insurance which can deliver them from a cornucopia of insecurities that are bogging them as on date. Despite all the shortcomings, one cannot but commend the ability of the Indian to bend backwards to make space. Perhaps the day is not far off when he also learns to give space (Pun intended) to his neighbours!!!