Saturday, May 9, 2009

Dealing with Urbanity and Clipping off Wings

Yesterday unauthorized street vendors were removed from the sidewalks of Pettah. This mode of so called “Unauthorized” Business might have been the sole means of income for many of the poor souls. The TV channel Swarnavahini in their news segment highlighted the woes and pleas of these individuals going to the extent of one person blaming the government that they took this measure only now, because the UPFA (United People's Freedom Alliance: which is the ruling party in Sri Lanka at present) had lost some of the Colombo areas in the recent western provincial election.
The daily mirror has published a photograph depicting the pavements of pettah today. And it looks like somewhere in Dubai. Even though a melting pot of architecture, in Dubai street life wise you never see a person. I spent 7 days in Dubai and except for the South Asian laborers sitting on the carefully maintained green patches waiting for their buses, I didn’t see people walking anywhere. This is obviously due to the blistering heat. And one of the most interesting urban joy stops that I’ve ever encountered were the air conditioned bus stops “Home away from Home” in Dubai.
Cities need to be bustling with life. Cities need bazaars, if the government doesn’t create them people have to make it themselves. Any way bazaars are created by the public for the public. This has been the norm for centuries.
I still recall going to the kirulapona pola (Bazaar) on Saturdays, hanging on to my mothers hand, Even then I was amazed at the enthusiasm, the dynamism that the people brought into this small narrow oddly shaped rows of shops. Then they built a fence, built closed shops and put all the people inside. After that, I haven’t visited that pola again.
The chain supermarket stores have anyway engulfed the individual small shop owners. It is seldom now a days you see the shop at the corner where a king cocnut tree grows in the middle of the shop and commodities ranging from toothpaste to chillie powder are hung on the trunk of the tree, or the small book shop where the mudalali (Owner of the shop) is probably the oldest person you have ever seen, with the musty smell of old paper lingering on to every niche. Every thing has been given up in the name of consumerism and comodification. What ever happen to those ice packets that as kids we loved, but got a good thrashing if parents got any wind of it? Only cargills popsicles are there now a days? By the way what ever happen to the jolly jingling Bombay mutan man? Replaced by the candy floss dude? Sometimes globalization doesn’t seem so attractive.
I would love to have those pavement vendors back again in pettah (unfortunately/fortunately I have no attachments with the governing system in Sri Lanka.) And I also have that nostalgic affiliation to go back to the shop at the corner and buy my self some good old ice palams.