The neo-liberal market emphasises uniformity whereas the weekly market stands for complete chaos. While the mall gives you a sanitised shopping experience the weekly market engulfs you in its sense of festivity. Do weekly markets have a future in our smart-cities?
We have been generating many interesting debates in The New Leam. The purpose behind them all is to invoke a sense of agency among our readers, to make them enthusiastic about thinking on issues that are both contemporary and urgent and to most importantly arouse their interest in the process of the generation of ideas. The thought behind all these debates has also been that no human being exists in the world as an isolated entity and that since all of together form the collective it is extremely important for each one of us to think, introspect and negotiate with each other on themes that are of common concern. This has made an important contribution towards bringing people from different walks of life to a single and communicative pedestal where they engage meaningfully with a series of debates.
The theme of the debate last week was regarding the importance of weekly markets in times where malls and retain outlets have captured the nation’s imagination and whether or not within that context such local/weekly markets can survive for a long period of time. Well, while nobody can perhaps deny the fact that malls have indeed become an important aspect of the city’s landscape over the last few decades and those who are endowed with the purchasing power especially in the metropolitan centres of India do not hesitate to see it both as their shopping and entertainment resource, nevertheless we cannot ignore the fact that the city’ elites are not its one and only subjects and there exists a wide majority of people who are dependent on the simpler, humbler and cheaper shopping experience to meet their day to day needs. The capital city of Delhi for example has seen a massive growth in the number of malls and high end retail outlets where from fruit and vegetables to clothes and shoes and utensils are found for customers belonging to the upper-middle and upper class sections of the society.
Yes, one does not have to bargain here as all commodities come prefixed with price tags, one does not have to push around a dozen others to make once way through, one does not have to face the humid weather or the chill outdoors, neither does one have to go through the hustle bustle of traffic jams or the trouble of dust and noise common to the market place. The mall in that sense is a much sanitized, neutral, inorganic space which has no emotive connotations and where transaction is distant, individualised and non-communicative, in other words the reality of the mall is much different or often juxtaposed to that of local/weekly markets. The weekly markets are lively shopping destinations where vendors and customers from near and far come not just to shop for food, clothes, utensils, toys, grocery items or other day to day necessities are relatively subsidized prices but it is also a place where people come to socialise with others, to celebrate a family outing amidst street food and festivity, to experience the sense of community. The mall is more about individualised customers engaging in a transactional bond with the individual vendor and then terminating the interaction but for those who find themselves in the weekly market shopping is a complex and long process beginning with a comparative mental research of quality and costs, of bargaining skills, of buying more for less, of handling a fragile budget, of feeding children street food and buying them simple toys, of roaming about and enjoying the warmth of chaotic markets.
The weekly market thus is intrinsically an organic space that is vibrant and real even though for many it means a moment of hassle, difficulty and unhygienic contexts. We believe that weekly markets will not get replaced by the mall culture. Not just because they are cheaper and cater to the needs of the marginalised but also because they have in their character something intrinsically ‘Indian’ (the festive fervour, the chaos, the hustle bustle, the authenticity of simple interactions, the smell of the commonest man). Markets of this kind ought to exist because they are in a much concretised sense a revolt against the hegemony of corporate capital, because they stand for an India that belongs to the masses and not just to the selected few. It is this unique and appealing aspect of the weekly markets which we believe ought to be preserved in an age where neo-liberal market spaces have become the dominant reality.
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