Sunday, November 30, 2008

MARKET mayhem

MARKET mayhem
Avenue Road-Chickpet area sells just about everything you need, at dirt-cheap prices. Yet, many Bangaloreans dread to step into the area. Sujit John & Mini Joseph Tejaswi examine what ails Old Bangalore

Youngsters don’t come here. They prefer malls,” says G V Sreedhar, whose family has been running a jewellery business on Avenue Road for close to 90 years. “They come only if they want something they don’t get elsewhere: craft items, creative blouse pieces or decorative articles for festivals.”
We hear a similar lament from B K Goyal, secretary of the Federation of Trade Associations of Central Bangalore: “This place has the highest business turnover in the city, but it’s also the most neglected. If things remain as they are, malls will take away our business.”
There’s almost nothing you can’t possibly get in the Avenue Road-Chickpet area, the place you may call the original or Old Bangalore. It’s a one-stop shopping area no mall can match. Some say there’s nothing like this anywhere else in India.
Yet, it’s suffering. Some traders admit business has fallen in the past few years. For many others, business is still good, but they are worried about the future.
Already, some big wholesalers have moved to other locations where conditions are better. This worries people like Suresh Manandi, president of Bangalore Wholesale Cloth Merchants’ Association, who says such movement will make the area less attractive. “Customers come here from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala. If the market is in different places, it will create problems for them and business here will suffer,” he says.
Even residents and customers are tiring. Padmavati (44), who has lived in Akkipet all her life, says she used to come 3-4 times a week earlier to shop and to a temple, but now it’s just about three times a month. “Even when I come, there’s no satisfaction. The government gives money for tennis and cricket, but not for this area,” she says.
The frustration is easy to understand. The area is congested. There’s hardly any parking space. Narrow roads are occupied by two-wheelers. Many shops, like Vishwa Book House and Aum Gold Covering Works, have extended their wares on to pavements, forcing people to walk on the crowded road. Piles of books lie on footpaths. There are hawkers like Krishnamurthy, who sells jalebis on the pavement.
Electricity wires hang dangerously. There are oil spills. If there’s a blaze, fire engines wouldn’t be able to get onto most roads because they are so narrow.
Retired Justice M F Saldanha, a member of Transparency International, a global body that works against corruption and public misbehaviour, blames corruption for the “insane” growth of the area. “Traders and officials are equally responsible for the uncontrolled, preposterous growth and congestion of these areas,” he says. “Be it households or enterprises, there is a growing need for additional space. But creating space through unscrupulous means, flouting regulations and by-laws will only create congestion and chaos. Almost every official is part of this chain of corruption. The BBMP is the most corrupt government body in the entire country.”
The roads are not meant for buildings over two storeys high. But today, there are many multi-storey buildings, some going up to seven floors. Together with houses and shops that have extended themselves on to pavements and roads, they stand testimony to this corruption.
Now, after turning a blind eye to all this, BBMP is proposing a demolition of much of this area and rebuilding it with wider roads and better facilities. Similar things have happened elsewhere. Saldanha says when Shanghai’s old market became congested and dirty, the Chinese government temporarily shifted it elsewhere to cleanse and rebuild the original marketplace. Even in Mangalore, the congested and dirty city market was shifted to a large maidan before the corporation refurbished the market.
Doing that with Old Bangalore is easier said than done. It will require a Herculean effort, huge resources and careful planning to ensure all archaeologically and architecturally important buildings are preserved. And no government in India in recent times has displayed the determination required for this.
Goyal says traders and residents cannot be expected to put in any significant money for rebuilding the area. “If some agency can take responsibility to temporarily rehabilitate everybody, do the reconstruction, and then hand over the place back to the traders, then it may be feasible,” he says.
(Tomorrow: Other solutions to
Old Bangalore’s problems)
The story goes that Kempe Gowda (1510-1570) decided to build a city that would be his future capital, and which would have a fort, reservoirs, temples, and people of all trades. According to some historians, at an auspicious moment in the 1530s, Kempe Gowda harnessed four pairs of oxen and started ploughing in four directions from Doddapet square, the point where Chickpet and Doddapet met. These became four important market roads, what we know today as Nagarathpet Road, Chickpet and Avenue Road (Doddapet).
Streets and blocks were marked out for different purposes. Some blocks were to be residential. Nagarathpet, Chickpet and Doddapet roads were meant for marketing of general merchandise. Cottonpet, Tharagupet, Akkipet, Ragipet and Balepet were marked for sale of cotton, grain, rice, ragi and bangles respectively. There were streets for crafts. Many temples were built; some flourish even today.
This city is what we know as Old Bangalore. Tipu Sultan later contributed to its development and built a dargah that stands today. You can also see Tipu’s Horsemen’s Houses on Avenue Road, as also a British addition — the Rice Memorial Church built by Sir Benjamin Rice in 1916.
For many today, despite all the malls and modern shopping centres, Old Bangalore is still the one-stop
shop for everything. It’s difficult to get accurate numbers, but it is estimated that there are 30,000-40,000 traders in the area and that “thousands of crores of rupees” of business is done here every year, both wholesale and retail. Suresh Manandi, president of Bangalore Wholesale Cloth Merchants’ Association, says there are 800-1,000 wholesale textile shops in the area, and estimates that Rs 1,000-Rs 1,200 crore of wholesale textile business happens here.
G V Sreedhar, secretary of the Jewellers’ Association, says there are some 200 jewellers in the area. He estimates the area sees 10 lakh footfalls a day, with customers coming from all parts of Karnataka, as also border areas of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

Avenue Road surely can’t get more congested. Parking is not allowed here, but notice the mini-truck illegally parked, unloading goods in the middle of a crowded day. Traffic police often turn a blind eye to violations

The pettas and their best-known products

Old Bangalore as it was in 1940. Below: The princess of Denmark and her entourage jostle with locals while shopping at Chickpet in 1963


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