October 30, 2005
Terrorists chose New York’s twin towers because they were symbols of the style and substance of US economic power. There are no bond traders or equity analysts in Sarojini Nagar and Paharganj, the two sites of Delhi’s worst terrorist attack this evening. But if markets have a life beyond that of the wares they sell, then there is a mystical bond between the two across the city—and maybe a parallel across the Atlantic.
Sarojini Nagar and Paharganj both began decades ago, as friendly neighbourhood markets for the low-budget housewife, selling achars and achkans, saris and stoves. They still sell those but when the winds of globalisation swept through Delhi a decade ago, it was Sarojini Nagar and Paharganj which were the first to reinvent themselves as the Retail Paradise for the new consumer-citizen (the shopper) and new entrepreneur-citizen (the shopkeeper).
So you have teen queens, from Mukherjee Nagar to Kaka Nagar, striding into the thudding heart of mundane merchandise looking for export excesses in Tommy Hilfiger jeans and Gap T-shirts, which cost less than the multi-lane Ring Road counterparts in shiny new stores in South Ex.
And, the karmic goras (foreign tourists), too, seeking eternal bliss in the transit cells of Paharganj hotels, on their way to mystic Manali and vedic Varanasi. Ancient India, New India and the world, all collide in the market.
Babu Market (aptly named after the sprawling Class IV babu colonies that surround the area), in Sarojini Nagar, spills over with shops selling low value, good price groceries and crockery, sarees and suits, vegetables and utensils.
However, it’s in the assembly line production of indispensable Indian essentials which brings out the true spirit of new enterprise. Bustling shops excel in replicating, imitating, copying and reproducing bargain-basement fundamentals like festival kits to Jaipuri quilts.
Akshaye Collections in Sarojini sells jackets and jeans, from Rs 35 to Rs 300; Mickey Mouse Garments sell kidswear ranging from Rs 40 to Rs 100, while Akshaye Gift Palace has karva chauth kits, Baisakhi parandis and Shagun thalis.
Paharganj Market came alive because of the accidental tourist. As the apocryphal story goes, in the mid-70s, the demand for cheap hotels grew for visiting businessmen to hardware shops that had sprung up in the district. Soon, the low-cost hotels lured the gora tourist spilling out of the disgorging New Delhi Railway station on the opposite street, and today, there are as many as 200 hotels and guesthouses in Backpacker’s Street, Paharganj.
You can buy crisp jalebis at Agarwal Sweets, Day-Glo Shiva keyrings and chillums at R-Expo House. Salesmen and henchmen dart the streets night and day, selling houseboat nights in Srinagar to river-rafting days in Rishikesh. Touts collide with sleepless mind readers, while hairless boys offer full-body massages.
And, so, as the bombs which set off in Chand Juice and Chaat Corner in Sarojini Market and Paharganj killing dozens and injuring scores didn’t even touch the eccentricity, the fun and the invention of the city’s twin towers.
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