In India, reserving a footpath (wherever existent) solely for walking is a blasphemous idea. Instead, it’s a platform to showcase diverse talent and hence serve a greater purpose.
In an upscale locality, the rather premium red-tiled footpath begins service for the day by sole kissing expensive Nike trainers of the iPod-clipped-women-in-shorts kind, and their male equivalents. Their upscale dogs tugging along also exhibit status by intimidating the stray community – which rule the footpath after dark – to sheepishly withdraw dominance, at least for those few morning hours. Occasionally, verbal clashes between the two classes of dogs occur. Oh and yes, for the trees that stand by the sides, this is the time they’re blessed with some upscale dog nutrient.
Simultaneously in the neighborhood slum dwelling, one footpath forms the first line of control: between the slum and the upscale neighborhood. The slum is official residence for the back-office staff of wealthy Indian households – drivers, house helps et al. This wider footpath, formed by wear and tear of the ground, is where inhabitants primarily answer calls. First are mobile phone calls due to lack of signal penetration in their makeshift homes, and second (and more prominently), natures’ calls. I’ve often contemplated the possibility of huge deposits of crude directly underneath. By night, it becomes the slum’s official playground at one end, and casino at the other, both being lit very generously by street lights while they work, and stolen-electricity lamps when they don’t.
With all the above taken into account, we in India don’t intend to serve you by the side of our excretory deposits. That’s why we’ve put business on the other side of a different footpath adjoining the commercial zone, thus forming the second line of control. It branches out together with the streets into more footpaths, and as you hop and skip through, you’ll discover that amazing athlete in you. You’ll be struck by the vivacity of India’s greatest retail industry housed here. Divide their total income by the cumulative sum of space occupied, and you’ll be staggered by the revenue-per-square-foot; so much it just might surpass that of Apple’s retail division. From cosmetics to garments, cell phones to computer hardware, cutlery to cookware, and grocery to general household supplies – everything’s under a few (umbrella) roofs. To further pamper the shopping experience, after every few meters is a “cool bar” selling tea, soda, paan and cigarettes. Seasonally, there are hills of mangoes and grapes, among the more common fruits and vegetables. There is also a thriving services industry; shoe shiners, barbers, street jugglers, acrobats, musicians and the more exciting tarot readers. In case guilt encroaches your lavish spending there will be vagrants awaiting generosity.
Twined with all this commotion, product promotions – yelling out prices at best bargains – happen as enthusiastically as the owner/salesmen themselves. Retailers here also find innovative ways in raising capital e.g. by sale of “Ad space” on tree barks and lampposts beside their outlets. They assume that for some reason, you’ll want everything they have to sell. With customer-centric pricing in play, look upper class and you’re expected to pay more, unless you win the bargain game. On reaching a mutual agreement on the price, if you change your mind, prepare to get cursed!
Larger footpaths around the area double up as parking lots. In a rapidly developing India, construction sites are inevitable, and the owners have exclusive rights to use the footpaths around for storing gravel and construction equipment. If any of that is not present, at least be sure to find a cow lying on the footpath and chewing its cud like a boss.
Obviously, all this pressure takes its toll on the feebly built concrete blocks. If you’re lucky you may end up not slipping into a sewer through the fault lines.
Photo credit: photos.nicolas-holzheu.com
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