Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The flowers were there…

but, where was the market? There was nothing to identify this as a market building. Nothing to identify it as a market street either. There was no street. Just some space between randomly built one-storeyed brick and concrete structures. There were flowers everywhere. People selling flowers. People buying flowers.

From the street outside, I had seen huge flower garlands in yellow, crimson and green. If it wasn’t the size of those garlands, I would have never noticed the flower vendors. I would not have sensed that perhaps I could walk between these two shops and there would be something beyond.

I walked towards the flower shops and then between them. It was just more yellow, crimson and green garlands on both sides. Couldn’t see anything or anybody. Then, heard voices of vendors calling out to ask if I wanted to buy. That was for a brief moment. What the eyes saw just completely erased the words in the air. I didn’t hear them anymore.

The market had no “entrance”. Yet, if this was not a magnificent way to enter any place, what was? I still can’t get over the fact that I would have never known that I could enter a flower market here.

Further down, there were more shops selling flowers. It was a busy time. It was 8.30 in the morning. Sacks full of loose flowers being weighed on large weighing scales everywhere one went. No designated paths for customers. No designated operation spaces for vendors. Could I derive from this a plan for the marketplace? It just seemed like a ‘plan with no plan’.

I remembered then the walk through Pedana, a town near Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh where a little boy had taken us through a random but informative weaving tour as we went through a back alley into a weaver’s house, through a courtyard where yarn was being dyed and through the interior where the weavers sat at their looms and again through the frontyard into yet another street. I think informal economy anywhere in India creates the same sense of ‘place’ – one that cannot be defined or fathomed but one that has a presence nevertheless. 

From this series of shops, if I turned left it took me to this tea stall which I had seen from the street earlier. The tea stall was not so far from the “street corner” I had sat at the previous morning, at the junction of Asaliamman Koil street and Tiruvoodal street. I retraced my steps back from the tea stall to the small junction in the flower market that I had first arrived at and turned right. More shops. Many transactions.
There was a continuous stream of people with large sacks of flowers on their heads climbing steps and disappearing behind the houses there. There was perhaps something more behind there. I climbed the steps. Where was this going to lead to? I came out onto a street. There were clay pots everywhere. I had seen this corner before. It was the corner you reached if you turned right from the main east entrance of the Arunachaleswarar temple.

A few houses, paths between houses and a flower market had happened. There was maybe nothing to plan? Markets in India just happened, where people walked and where paths crossed. Was anyone asking, ‘Is this a good location?’ ‘Is this a good plan?’ or ‘Is this a good design?’. It seemed not to matter. ‘Was business here good?’ ‘How did one begin to sell here?’ or ‘How much income could one make with selling of flowers?’ Those were the questions that mattered to a vendor and a ‘place for exchange’ perhaps had to be able to answer that.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Mapping the City

You create a map of the city when you walk through it. You absorb one step at a time, one image after another. There is a simultaneous assimilation of the visual images and what you hear, what you think. You put aside some of these perceptions and thoughts in your mind. These are our memories of the city.

One of the older streets with the houses in stone walls and lime plaster. The informal bazaar happens against these walls.

I walked some more through the town of Tiruvannamalai. Actually, I wandered through it but it was in some ways a selective wandering. I had earlier been to the streets to the south of the Arunachaleswarar temple which was the pettah area or the fortified town and the old bazaar.

Was this disorganised complexity or organised complexity?

I had now chosen to know more about the part of the town that was newer, that had developed only fifty to sixty years before, the part to the north of the temple precinct. Here, as in the southern part, there were streets that functioned as bazaars – shops below, residences or offices above. I started to begin my count of this walk from the Raja Gopuram or the East (main) entrance of the Arunachaleswarar temple.

Still the same street but now looking westwards.This was a street parallel to the east-west axis of the temple and on its south side.

These streets were newer, wider and more modern. As I walked, I saw this shop with a board that said ‘Malaysian Electronics’. There was Airtel, there were Supermarket chain stores. The north of town was clearly the modern bazaar whereas the south of town was the traditional bazaar.

As I moved closer to the rathas (car) on Car street, I was moving away from the temple in the north direction and towards the Big Street.

Often in the Indian city, the development of the inner city core has been in concentric circles, with the traditional bazaar being in the inner circle and the modern bazaar streets falling within the outer circles. Here, it was growth that had been along an East-West axis – the early development being on its southern side and the later development of the town being on its northern side. It was the large expanse of the temple that had created this axis and governed the development of the town in a particular way.

The ratha was large enough to shelter women street vendors in its shade (which was yet to come, it was still early morning)

I had walked from the Raja Gopuram onto the Car street. This was the street where the wooden ratha (car) was parked when it was not being taken around the temple in a ceremonial procession. Along the Car street, I had stopped by at the Deepam hotel, where they serve you filter coffee in a brass tumbler. The brass glass for the coffee. It was nice. They said it was from Kumbakonam. The Car street took me northwards to the ‘Big Street’.

The part of the town that was new with its modern shops selling televisions, mobile phones and branded shoes.

This part of town was also where you could find bookshops selling Tamil religious books and music CDs and DVDs. The entire new development seemed to be an outcome of the increase in religious tourism and its primary objective was to serve the pilgrims who came to Tiruvannamalai throughout the year.

Walking alongside the wall of the temple on its northern side and towards the arunachala hill.

I continued to walk along the Big street, which seemed to have a high density of lodges and small buildings with large sign boards that said ‘Bathrooms & Toilets’. Amongst the lodges on this street were the Aruna Lodge, the Annamalai guest house, the Swathi Sri Residency A/C and the Sri Malaimagal Lodge. The left edge of this street was the high, northern stone wall of the Arunachaleswarar temple. From this street you could also enter the temple through the Ammani Amman Gopuram or the North entrance as it was called. On the opposite side, there was the Chinnakadi street with its hardware shops. There were other small lanes that sprung out from this street selling jewellery and household goods.

Sketch Plan reflecting the original 1760 map by John Call

In the 1760 map of Tiruvannamalai, this street had already been in existence and so also some of the smaller streets perpendicular to it The older development from that time had been replaced by new development in recent years. However, this was still the ‘old city’. For some, it had old memories. For me, the memories both in perception and thought were new.

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. 

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