By Roopkatha Kar
A busy commercial area with lots of people engaging in various activities; big showrooms, hotels, hospitals, eateries, footpaths occupied by street vendors; heavy traffic, pedestrians hurriedly crossing streets, buyers and sellers busy negotiating prices, the giant metro running overhead – this was Lakdi Ka Pul for me at first sight. Lakdi Ka Pul was the site chosen for our Winter Institute in the city of Hyderabad. The first day when I visited our site, there was nothing that really struck me about the place. I wondered, isn’t Lakdi Ka Pul just like any other suburb in any other city?
Having visited Charminar early on the same day and seeing the wonderful markets of pearls, jewels, perfumes around it, Lakdi Ka Pul appeared bland in comparison. But as I kept visiting Lakdi Ka Pul each day, striking conversations with old shopkeepers, street vendors, customers, random pedestrians, hearing stories from different people and interacting with Lakdi Ka Pul on a regular basis, I realized that there is a lot more to this place than meets the eye.
Our theme for the Winter Institute was ‘Incrementality’. Needless to say, I could hardly spot any structure or activity on my first day that I could call ‘incremental’. But as I started taking a closer look at the built form and people in Lakdi Ka Pul, I realized that the processes of negotiating life and space on a daily basis add up to what can be called ‘Incrementality’. It is all around us, in various forms. As I came across different stories and carefully observed life at Lakdi Ka Pul, I could also realize how a place grows everyday, each hour, and how its mood changes not just over a period of time, but also during the course of a single day. There are certain activities, certain structures that are visible at Lakdi ka Pul only during particular hours of the day, and are gone as their purpose is fulfilled.
Every place has different moods at different hours of the day.
‘Karobar si dopahar, bad–mizaaj si shaam‘ / a busy market-like afternoon, a grumpy, annoying evening. These phrases talk about the mood of a place at different hours of the day.
Over two weeks, as I visited the site at different hours of the day, I could see the moods of Lakdi Ka Pul change with the clock. The early hours of the day see breakfast stalls lined up along the corners of the streets, and office-goers, shopkeepers, workers gorging on plates of dosas, idlis and vadas. Even before the breakfast stalls arrive, the area in front of the GHMC canteen at the Lakdi Ka Pul chauraha is crowded with daily wage workers every day as early as 5 am. This is a labour adda where labourers gather every morning in search of work.
Along NH 9, in front of Down Town Mall, there is an auto stand which is active only in the morning. Speaking with some of the auto drivers, I understood that there is a tacit agreement between the owners of the shops and the auto drivers. As soon as the shops open in the morning at around 11, the autos vanish. That is how they negotiate space!
At the Lakdi Ka Pul chauraha is the GHMC canteen that serves a full meal for 5 rupees only. The canteen opens everyday at around 12 noon and wraps up by 1:30 pm. The daily wage workers who gather in front of the canteen in the morning, anxiously waiting for someone to hire them or give them some odd job, come back to this same place during the afternoon to feed themselves. As the sun warms up the air, one can see exhausted faces lining up in front of the canteen. The din of the day only grows by the hour as more vehicles and people appear at Lakdi Ka Pul, trying to negotiate life and space. The pavements are taken up by street vendors who set up their makeshift shops and sell a variety of goods ranging from lemons, coconuts, flowers to sim cards, belts, books.
Along NH 9, there are a number of furniture shops, some of them as old as 40 years. Despite being fined by the police over and over again, these furniture shop owners defiantly display their furniture on the pavement because, “जोदीखताहै, वहबिकताहै”
The breakfast stalls start wrapping up by this time, and some of them come back to the same place in the evening. The dosas, vadas and idlis are now replaced with punugulu, mirchi pakoda, aloo bhajiya, samosas, and various other snacks. Workers from the nearby hospitals, hotels and government offices come to these snacks stalls during their evening tea break. A busy market-like afternoon changes into a worn out evening, but the show must go on. As the big showrooms, hotels and eateries light up, intercity buses start appearing along NH 9 and Khairatabad Road.
Vendors selling water bottles and snacks gather around these buses, striving to make a living. Traffic increases, and life at Lakdi Ka Pul continues as buyers and sellers appear in greater numbers. As night grows, the din of the day starts fading; fewer people and vehicles on the road, shop owners wrapping up. One can see homebound street vendors, a lonely balloon seller sitting on the pavement, counting her day’s earnings. Lakdi Ka Pul calls it a day and awaits another day of karobar.