Some Pictures…

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Trying to battle the heat.

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Koraj Hill behind Tejgadh. This was the view from my room.

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Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III’s Palace in Barodabuilt in 1890. Still the largest home in India.

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Best place to eat in India. Indian Coffee House is on Mall Road in Shimla. It’s a must!

 

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Good advice. Monkeys are menacing.

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Beautiful McLeod Ganj

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Writing down some thoughts while eating momos.

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Am I ready for Wankla?

During my stay at the Adivasi Academy in Tejgadh, I wanted to experience an adivasi (tribal) village. I expressed this wish to Dr. Arvindbhai, the resident director at the academy, and he arranged for me to visit a Rathwa (one particular tribe; there are predominately two tribes in this area Bhil and Rathwa) village, 60 kilometers from Tejgadh called Wankla. He arranged a guide as well. After a short meeting it was decided we would visit Wankla on Wednesday beginning at 7:30am. Wednesday morning came. For some reason I didn’t sleep well that night. I suppose it had something to do with the fact that during the night the academy lost electricity causing the fans to stop circulating air. The night was dreadfully hot. I woke early, took a shower and then sat at my desk and began reading an article related to my thesis. Eventually my guide came to my room and in a very reserved manner asked, “Are you ready for Wankla?” I, in my naïve enthusiasm said, “Sure, give me a few minutes to pack some things.” He gestured something to the effect of: no problem. I quickly packed my things. He returned and asked if I had taken my breakfast. I hadn’t. Even though I wasn’t feeling hungry, he whisked me off to the canteen. I was given a healthy serving of dry masala cornflakes with brown nuts, no milk, but there was chai. It was a strange breakfast, one I was not accustomed to, but I ate it all. Before long my stainless steel plate was empty. After going back for more chai, I walked over to the station reserved for washing dishes. Cleaned my plate, cup and spoon and returned them to their proper place.
I had expected we would be traveling by car to Wankla, an expectation that bordered on wishful thinking. However, it was soon clear that our mode of transport was motorcycle, 60 kilometers to Wankla. My guide went to fetch his bike and told me to meet him at the front gate. I did. He arrives with a small Hero Honda motorcycle and says, “Ok, lets go?” I did my best to contain my disappointment. I straddled the bike, situated myself and said, “Ready!” The bike sputtered off.
We traveled a reverse hierarchy of roads, larger to smaller. Each flowing together like tributaries to wider rivers. Each a part of a whole. We penetrated further and further into rural Gujarat. My guide did his best to navigate the most comfortable route around potholes, speed bumps and the occasional herd of cows or buffalos. For most of the trip, I sat on the back and stared out at the landscape. The verdant green stood out in great relief in what was otherwise a sea of brown and khaki. The land was parched and along the roadside appeared patches of earth scorched black. There were moments of great release when the road passed between the expanses of two fields. There were moments of great tension when the roadside trees bent overhead and hung like a lush ceiling. The air was sharp and sweet. There was a fruitiness that rested on it, which was tossed up by the sharpness of something close to pine. The air was fresh, only interrupted by the smell of sundried cow dung spread on the fields and the smoke of burning leaves wafting across our path. On the road to Wankla we passed through several towns. Each with it’s on character. Sometimes vibrant with activity; sometimes not. Some towns expressed blasé solitude. Others: a skeptical gaze. To me, they faded into each other before long. Whenever we passed through a town I smelled something that triggered childhood memories of Conner Prairie. This vividly brought images of rural America of the 1800s to my mind. Soon we swerved to avoid a crack in the road and such associations where shaken.
In most places the road was a higher elevation than the landscape on either side. As a result I was afforded clear sight to the activity in the fields below. I saw a woman with a sari veiling her face, hunched over, and shuffling across the ground collecting flowers from the Maudha tree. Her inattentive children were too busy throwing rocks or waving sticks to provide much help. I saw charpies carefully positioned under the shade of the largest tree; families gathered round resting at midday. I saw shepherds tending to their buffalos, waving a stick in one hand and making peculiar sounds with his mouth, which brought the herd to a rigid attention.
We turned off the convenience of paved roads and onto a dirt pathway leading through a field. My guide assured me this was a shortcut. We eventually emerged back on a paved road and made our way through a small town. Before long we came to a village. My guide turned left and stopped the bike in front of a long brick building. Without turning around he announced, “We’re here!” It seemed just like any other village we had passed along the road. I would never have distinguish this as an adivasi village had I not been told it was Wankla. Many of the homes were built with the traditional red clay and straw. But there was a great diversity among architectural style. Some homes were built entirely of concrete, like a house one would find in the city. Many others were built using red brick and wood. I was quick to notice the intricate carvings on the wood columns. We dismounted our Hero in a small space between two buildings. In the middle was a row of wood stakes used for tying up cows. One such cow was tethered on the last stake lethargically chewing some greens.
My guide gestured me into the long brick building immediately in front of us. A small group of fifteen children were sitting on the floor. As my guide entered the children shot up, put their palms together and greeted my guide and I. Their young, shrill voices were unexpected. The teacher flashed a smile in my direction and he nodded his head in approval. He arranged a chair for my guide and I and we sat. We made our introductions. Soon, the two girls closest to the door stood and began singing. They sang in unison and danced in place, swaying back and forth putting their left foot behind their right and then right behind left. The song lasted for about a minute after which the girls quietly sat back down. The following few minutes were awkward. Language always posed a problem, but more importantly I had nothing to say, yet all the children were staring at me intensely, whispering to one another and giggling.
The school is operated by the Bhasha Research and Publication Centre with assistance from Reach to Teach (a UK based organization). Bhasha also operates the Adivasi Academy. It is a non-formal school for young children between the ages of four or five, intended to provide elementary education before they enter formal government schools. It is also for older children (up the ages of sixteen) who drop out.
After several minutes a group of men arrived and sat in front of my guide and I. The teacher invited this group to answer any questions I might have. I was wholly unprepared for this. I felt pressured to ask questions, but I didn’t know enough to ask anything specific. My questions were general and somewhat superficial. I was more interested in having them tell me about their experience. It was at this moment punctuated by long silences that I realized I might not be ready for the village. I accepted a new respect for the convenience of urban life. I have been brought up in its privilege. I realized that I might be guilty for the same thing I criticize. I threw too much romance into the village. I constructed it as something almost mythical.
Following our talk at the school I was taken on a tour of the village. Wankla is home to about 400 households, about 1,200 people. After twenty minutes we returned to the school, which also served at the teacher’s home. Before we left he was adamant that we take lunch. He led us back into the kitchen, which differed from the main house because it was constructed in the traditional red-clay and straw. We were given a traditional Gujarati meal complete with maize chapatti. I did my best to stomach it. I’ll admit I didn’t finish it all.
My experience in Wankla forced me to question my ambition to study the ‘future of the village’. Perhaps this is a momentary lapse of self-doubt but Wankla showed me how much I don’t know. It showed me how wide of a gap I must cross to truly understand the village. I’m not sure I’m ready to understand the village. Am I ready for Wankla?

On Tejgadh

Tejgadh is a small town at the eastern most end of Gujarat, close to the border with Madya Pradesh. It sits at the foot of Koraj Hill. Tejgadh was home to an ancient settlement. Along with the 12,000-year old cave paintings on Koraj Hill, there are remnants of an old fort at its base. This area is predominantly tribal. It is mixed with both Rathwa and Bhil tribes. Along several surrounding villages, Tejgadh is also home to the Adivasi Academy. This place has served as my intellectual Mecca for the past two years since I last visited in 2011. I have proposed two Fulbright Fellowship to study the Adivasi Academy development model, but to no avail. However, since I was already in India doing work for my thesis I decided it would be foolish not to stay at the academy for some time. So, I did.
I have written about the Adivasi Academy before, so I won’t go into too much detail. But I will say briefly that the Adivasi Academy began in 1998 with the first structures built in 2003. Today is hosts a non-formal school for tribal children who have either dropped out or who’s parents have migrated. It hosts a health clinic, library and tribal ‘Museum of Voice’. The academy was founded by Dr. GN Devy. I was introduced to Dr. Devy’s work during my interaction with Chharanagar. Dr. Devy (along with others) was instrumental in founding the Chharanagar Library as well.
The academy is ashram-like. There is a military rigidness to its operations. Meals are fixed. Breakfast from 7-8. Lunch from 1-2. Dinner from 7:30-8:30. Food is served army style and the canteen carries the atmosphere of an immature mess hall. Everyone must wash their own dishes and place them back on the shelf. One must remove their shoes before entering inside the academy. Following dinner, children return to the school and sit quietly waiting for the others. When all have arrived they form columns, all sitting Indian style. They exclaim their assigned numbers, close their eyes and sit with palms together. Preparations are made for religious song. They all begin to chant in unison in shrill Gujarati. After about 20 minutes songs are over and children return and begin shuffling about.
Much to my surprise there is very little activity at the academy, besides the school. The library and the two schoolrooms form the locus of human activity. In the early afternoon the main courtyard space becomes a cricket and kickball field. Otherwise, there is very little moving about this place. There is a stillness about it, which speaks to something quite rural I suspect. The publication office is rarely open, the ‘Museum of Voice’ is usually unstaffed, the resident director is hard to locate and the support staff are always busy running around. I am unsure at this point how the Adivasi Academy engages, if at all, with the wider village of Tejgadh. During my stay here I have not seen any tribals at the academy. I have seen more students and curious onlookers (myself included) than villagers. I am skeptical of its relation to its context. The academy began in a very Socratic style. Dr. Devy came to Tejgadh and first listened to villagers. From these meetings he selected fifteen students, which he began instructing on top of a large black rock located close of the present day academy. From these humble beginnings the academy has transformed into a formal institution that continues to expand. With assistance from Reach to Teach and development aid from the Japanese Government, the academy, as recently as 2005, has added dedicated offices and a dormitory complex. The academy, no doubt for the purpose of protection, is walled on its perimeter by a four foot high, red concrete wall. This wall gives it a very insular presence. How does the academy connect with the surrounding villages in its day-to-day operations? Why do villagers not come to the academy regularly?
There are many more questions that I have regarding the maturation of the Adivasi Academy and its relation to the surround Tejgadh. While it may serve as a base of operations for the advocacy of adivasi rights across India, it seems to be more distant to those closest to it.

Extravaganza in the Smoky Mountains

I recently returned from a vacation in North India, and for once I did not travel alone. It was an altogether different experience to have someone with me during my travels, exploring and venturing a different part of the country, up high in the mountains. I met Aanal two years back during my CapAsia VI study abroad. She is an Indian, originally from Ahmedabad but brought up in Bombay, and also stayed in Indore, Delhi and Dubai during her growing years. She currently lives in Dubai with her family where she works for Emirates Green Building Council as an Educational Program Designer. Our time together was short, but we always felt something deep for each other. But following my return to the States, the best we could do was intermittent conversation through Gmail chat or Email. Far beyond mere physical attraction we developed a deep intellectual bond with one another in these conversations. Before long we were sharing emotions and things became much deeper. Of course, it was hard to develop anything substantial since we were several thousand miles away from each other, but we always stayed in contact.
During my time in Bhubaneswar (helping with CapAsia VII) she called me while she was in India visiting her Grandmom. This was when we first reconnected. After this we began texting on whatsapp, phone calls, Skyping to remain in constant touch. I was travelling a lot at the time, so I was admittedly a bit unresponsive. But before I knew it, a plan was hatched and it was decided that we reconnect in person, and that she would visit me in Ahmedabad. We brainstormed several ideas: romantic locations, exotic locations, hot locations, cold locations, and so on so forth. Among the plans were: Gir Forest, Mt. Abu, Kerala, Bombay, Goa…the list is almost endless. Wisely we decided to go north. I have never been to north India, but I’ve always wanted to visit. I think we ultimately decided on north India for the simple reasons, serene and beautiful.
She arrived on April 1st and I committed myself to pick her up from the airport. Her flight landed sometime around 3am (It wasn’t easy). She came on Monday morning. I had just come from my fieldwork at the Sunday Market and I was out in the sun all day and felt completely exhausted. After I completed my fieldwork and before I picked her up I arranged with one of Aanal’s friends to move into her family’s apartment in Satellite Area. Arranging this was a bit of hassle, but Aanal took care of most of it. I moved in and tried to get some sleep. It felt like five seconds when my phone’s alarm announced it was time to go to the airport. I hastily got ready, completely forgetting to brush my teeth, which I remained self-conscious about the entire time. I walked out into the night and began searching for a rickshaw. After waking up and pissing off two or three autowallas, I finally found one willing to go to the airport. I had to haggle to get him down to 200 rupees, but I didn’t mind paying because he was the only rickshaw in sight and the first one willing to go all the way to the airport. I hopped in.
I arrived at the airport and stood outside for sometime. There was an occasional stream of people flowing out, but no sight of Aanal. I paid Rs 60 to enter the airport and waited for her inside restlessly. 20 minutes passed, then a half hour. I took a seat on a foot railing. I perked up any time any one with long hair came out from customs. Finally, I saw her. She was beautiful. I had butterflies in my stomach. She approached. I got nervous. I wasn’t sure what to say after two long years. She pushed her luggage cart closer and closer, until eventually she rolled passed me. I was stunned. I didn’t say anything for short while I thought this was her April’s Fools joke. But to my surprise she kept going. I called: “Aanal”. She stopped immediately. She scanned around her. Our eyes met. We both smiled. She nodded shyly. Maybe it was in deprecation of her silliness for passing me. Either way we approached and hugged tightly. The conservative Gujarati audience kept us from any further PDA.
We stayed for a few days in Ahmedabad, where I met several of her friends. We didn’t get as much time as we wanted because I had arranged several meetings prior to leaving Ahmedabad, because I knew I wouldn’t be back for nearly two weeks. But eventually we set out for our vacation. This trip was well needed for several reasons. First, it was a much needed break from my thesis research. I was getting overwhelmed with information, most of which I was unable to digest properly because it was coming at me too fast. Second, it was a reprieve from the heat in Gujarat. As I said in my last post, the temperature here is around 105 degrees this time of year. It was about 70 degrees in Himachal during the day and maybe 60 degrees at night. Third, it gave me the opportunity to reconnect with someone very special.
We decided to visit Himachal Pradesh. For my sake we needed to keep the cost of the trip as low as possible, and we both also decided to experience the North India in a very raw way, to experience the REAL India, hence we decided to travel by train or bus only. After an initial hassle getting to the Ahmedabad Railway Station in Kalupur, we took an overnight train to New Delhi.
Setting the foot in New Delhi with Aanal was an altogether different experience. Storming our way past the crowded railway stations, we were swamped by a variety of autowalas and cabbies. We finally managed to hook up with one of the cabbies, who agreed on helping us to find a hotel room for ourselves where we could freshen up, since we still had nearly 10 hours to kill before our bus to Dharamshala. Being an Indian herself, Aanal did not think it was important to carry her passport with her, which landed us in a lot of problems, as none of the hoteliers were willing to give us a single room, and were rather insisting on taking 2 separate rooms. After much resistance and arguments, we finally settled for a low budget hotel in Paharganj named Oxford Inn. We both were exhausted with the train journey, so crashed for a few minutes. I had to get ready at the earliest to meet Professor Poonam at SPA. Aanal and I went to Connaught Place, where she went off to find a café where she could work on her mails and grab a coffee, and I headed to SPA for my meeting. Once the meeting was over, I joined Aanal and her friend for Lunch at QBA’s (ludicrously the most expensive restaurants in town), where we ended up spending Rs.3500 for our meal. The beer and lime juice itself costed us Rs.1500. It definitely gave me and Aanal a reality check on the expensive restaurants in town. After the meal, we rushed back to our hotel, and the funniest and most strenuous part was that we dint know where we had to go, and we were not able to communicate well to the rickshaw wala. Aanal was completely stressed out as our bus was leaving at 5pm, and we were still wandering around at 4:40pm on the streets of Paharganj. Finally we found our way to the hotel, where we grabbed our luggage and headed to the bus stand. I was so glad, that after all the running around, our journey to the mountains was finally commencing.
From New Delhi we took an overnight deluxe bus to McLeod Ganj (home to the exiled 14th Dali Lama). McLeod Ganj is a beautiful hill station nestled in the curve of a mountain. Once we arrived we hired a taxi who proceeded to take us to several hotels, none of which we liked. We decided to go off on our own and eventually Aanal found Hotel Mountain View. The view was exceptional, the prices were low and the staff was friendly. It was perfect for the both of us! We stayed for three days, two nights.
McLeod Ganj is a shopper’s paradise. It has many small boutique stores offering a wide range of shawls, stoles, shirts, wooden crafts, images of the Buddha, jewelry etc. Aanal and I did a significant amount of shopping in McLeod Ganj, but it was nice and Aanal reminded me to buy gifts for friends and family back home (which I had neglected to do up to that point). Even though I would say we ‘over-shopped’ I had a great time with her and got all of my gifts out of the way.
Our journey in McLeod Ganj can be best summed up by shopping and the Budan Café. When traveling, a place that offers free wifi is like a pilgrimage destination. Budan Café was close by from the hotel we stayed at and offered free wifi, which made it a natural morning destination, ideal for a perfect breakfast place with the best Mocha and Omelets in town. It was at the Budan Café that Aanal turned me on to Cold Coffees. I’ve been a bit resistant to cold coffees over the years. I am an adamant hot coffee drinker at home. I was convinced that cold coffees were unnatural, something to be resisted. I’m not sure where such a staunch attitude developed, but in any case I was resistant. Only because she asked I tried a cold coffee. Needless to say I am a big fan of cold coffees now. Especially on a hot day in India, a cold coffee satisfies two cravings simultaneously.
One of our ventures with cold coffee was memorable for another reason at one of the café’s in downtown. While sitting in a café, Aanal and I were trying to plan a trip to Manali or Shimla, where we were exploring the hotel options and checking distances. I was seated and she was standing over my leg facing me. I had my arms around her waist. Soon a crusty old white woman, presumably from the States, hunches over to look around Aanal and get a peak at my face. She seemed taken aback when she saw me. She turned around and walked closer to the counter. It seemed as though she was not going to say anything. Then she turns again and asked abruptly in my direction, “Where are you from.” I replied, “The US…the States.” She stood straight and blurted, “Oh…because that kind of behavior is not acceptable for this country. Even the guys behind the counter are laughing.” She flashed a smile approving of her moral victory, placed her order, turned and left. I was so offended. Aanal and I were both shocked by her assertiveness that we said nothing. Her comments fumed in me for some time. To a certain extend I respect the fact that she vocalized a empathic sense of cultural protection; that she was aware of some elements of India’s cultural conservativeness towards displaying relationship in public. But who assigned her India’s moral and cultural police? Aanal and I were physical in public, even in conservative Ahmedabad, yet we never heard reproach. Of course, Aanal is Indian and well aware of the cultural mores even across different regions in India. Also she speaks both Gujarati and Hindi. She was able to pick up what the guys behind the counter were actually saying. They were laughing not at us but at her for criticizing us. They told Aanal in Hindi that they really didn’t mind our minor PDA. That was indeed a memorable experience.
Aanal was craving for momos. During our shopping along the main road we came across a row of small cafés complete with a nice terrace overlooking a cove in the mountainside. One of the cafes advertised momos. We quickly shuffled in and took a seat. Aanal is vegetarian, whereas I am not. We ordered two separate dishes. I got the fried chicken momos which turned out to be delicious. I don’t eat momos often so its difficult to judge, but I suspect these momos are at the top of the list. It was hilarious to see Aanal eating the moms. She ordered steamed veg momos with cheese, and happily loaded her momos with the fiery red chutney. Hey eyes were watering, mouth was burning, but that still dint stop her from reaching the finishing line. I managed to capture her change in expressions while savoring the momos.
Another significant part of our journey in McLeod Ganj turned out to be spiritual (I hesitate to say religious, but perhaps it was). Since McLeod Ganj is the home to Dali Lama it attracts spiritual seekers and hippies of all stripes. While I rejected it at the beginning it began to grow on me. Although I tend to think ‘hippiedom’ requires more social maintenance than being mainstream, it is an expression I respect, even if I gripe about it from time to time. Perhaps they were attracted to McLeod Ganj for the same reasons as us. I hesitate to be critical. But in the end Aanal and I could easily be counted among the many spiritual seekers. During our stay in McLeod Ganj we visited a famous Hindu Temple and received blessings from the Pujara (priest), the Buddhist temple and seat of the Dali Lama where I attempted a meditation, and a Christian church where Aanal and I both prayed before the alter.
After visiting the temple, we headed toward the famous Bhagsu waterfalls. It was a decent amount of walk, although I can’t deny the fact that the view was picturesque. After walking nearly for 30 minutes, and taking several halts to click pictures (Aanal loves to pose around, and she managed to drag me as well to get clicked, much against my shyness towards the camera), we reached our destination. Needless to say, the place was really beautiful. We relished ourselves with delicious egg magi, which I had never tried.
After McLeod Ganj we went to Shimla, a perfect place to travel during the summer. Apparently, Shimla was the ‘summer capital of British India’. Shimla is now the capital of Himachal Pradesh. The journey was arduous. We had to take a local bus from McLeod Ganj to Dhramshala. Then we took a “deluxe” bus from Dhramshala to Shimla. This bus could be described using many adjectives, but certainly not “deluxe”. I thought the bus was going to shake itself apart as we flew around the sharp mountain roads. Eventually, and much to my surprise, we made it to Shimla. I barely got any sleep. After haggling with a few, what we thought were, taxi drivers we were taken, not by taxi, but led by foot to several hotels on the opposite side of the mountain. After a few broken clocks and exploding beer bottles we finally settled on the Taj Hotel. It was a quaint room. We rested for a short while and then went out to explore Shimla. Aanal had already been to Shimla so she knew her way around. We headed for Mall Road, which is the main retail street in Shimla. This is when we stumbled across one of the greatest finds in human history: The Indian Coffee House. If you ever find yourself in Shimla go there. It is amazing. Food is cheap and delicious, atmosphere and décor is comfortable and memorable, service is quick although sometimes abrupt. The Indian Coffee House led Aanal and I to voracious overeating. It bordered on the unhealthy. We felt sick because we ate too much and had one too many cold coffees. Usually after eating breakfast at The Indian Coffee House we would walk down Mall Road and occasionally stop to make a purchase. We were much more conservative about shopping in Shimla as compared to McLeod Ganj. After 6 relaxed days in the mountains of India, we headed back to where we started, back to the grind and heat of Ahmedabad.

Confederacy for Informality

The air is dreadfully hot. A breeze does little. In fact, the only good thing about it is it dries some the sweat gathered on one’s back, underarms and face. Otherwise it only adds to the feeling that everything around is melting. I have been warned of the summer months in India, particularly April and May, from professors, friends and the occasional passer-by. It was described to me as almost a rite of passage in the experience of India. If so, this is a badge of honor I don’t care to wear. The temperature here in Gujarat consistently hovers around 105 degrees Fahrenheit. In May it reaches close to 120 degrees. With such heat waiting outside it forces one to think twice before traveling or exploring. Despite this (and perhaps against better judgment, given the weather) I have done a considerable amount of traveling and exploring since my last post. I am eager to talk about it!

In my last post I described some of the disappointments and setbacks I have faced while doing my thesis. I prefaced that post by saying that what I’ve experienced was tame in comparison to some of the horror stories I’ve heard. I want to start this post by clearing that up. I did not intend for any one to worry. In fact, everything is back on track. I’ve made significant progress writing and conceptualizing my thesis. It hasn’t been easy and I know things will change. The craft of writing occurs in editing. It will take some distance from my fieldwork to really appreciate the information I have, but I strongly believe I am gathering life stories. However, I’m not really sure how I’ve been able to manage it. I could say it was all by design, but truth is it’s been blind luck.

Those who have been reading my posts know that I am studying the Gujari Bazaar or Sunday Market in Ahmedabad. This is a fascinating space where informality, heritage and globalization all intersect. Due to the Sabarmati Riverfront Development (SRD) project, the market is being shifted to a new location. Only some vendors will be given formal and permanent stalls. The Ahmedabad Gujari Association (AGA) represents the market vendors and advocates their interests. The AGA’s proximity to the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), however has in some respects led to its formalization. This has created some tensions and mistrust among market vendors towards the AGA. In the meantime vendors still continue to sell every Sunday. And many look upon the new market location and infrastructure fondly. Many see the AMC providing the market vendors what the AGA never could.

My thesis is, first, trying to understand how the market operates. Second, trying to trace the market’s historical roots. Third (and most interestingly), I am trying to understand how people respond to and negotiate with the profound transformations occurring in and around this market as a result of major urban redevelopment projects. To conduct this study I have been meeting several people. I have met the project manager of the SRD project at HCP (the planning consultant). I have also been meeting with professors and journalist who have written about the SRD project in general or Gujari Bazaar in particular. But principally I have been talking with market vendors themselves.

My fieldwork is seriously challenging my earlier conceptions of this place and the kind of sentiments I expected to find. For instance, the market vendors I spoke to do not see this space as under threat. I had expected to find market vendors heroically resisting incorporation into the SRD project by defending their values, tradition and informality. I expected most vendors invoking the market’s supposed 600-year history. I did not find this. I had expected to find vendors that disliked the project for its displacements and disapproved of its aesthetic sense. I did not find this. I had expected to find vendors in appreciation of the Ahmedabad Gujari Association for their defense of the market. And I expected vendors wanting to remain in their current location with minimal disruption. While these expectations were sometimes confirmed they were always complicated by issues I hadn’t considered. While there does seem to be a general and widely held confusion of the projects intentions and what it means for the Gujari Bazaar, in many respects vendors are aware of its affects and are politically literate.

I would like to tell you about five of the vendors I have met since beginning my research at the Gujari Bazaar. First: Satyam. Satyam sells charpies, which are a common wooden bed fitted with rope. He is 23 years old, very thin, handsome and speaks with a high-pitched, raspy voice. He was the first person I ever spoke with at the market. He is a third generation vendor. He remembers, back when he was seven years old, helping his father sell charpies and simultaneously doing homework for his courses on Monday morning. Satyam’s grandfather migrated to Ahmedabad from Hyderabad in 1958. His grandfather was a tailor and was attracted (at that time) to the booming textile industry in Ahmedabad. Satyam’s grandfather migrated alone, leaving his wife and son (Satyam’s father) in Hyderabad until he could afford enough to bring them to Ahmedabad. So, in order to make extra money on the side Satyam’s grandfather, on the suggestion of a friend, began selling charpies every Sunday. Eventually, after ten years (other factors involved) he earned enough to bring his family to Ahmedabad in 1968. Satyam’s father came and began his schooling in Ahmedabad. He also began selling charpies every Sunday in the bed of the Sabarmti River with his father. As Satyam’s father grew up he sensed the decline in Ahmedabad’s textile industry, which completely collapsed in the 1980s. Because of this he did not take an interest in tailoring or anything related to textiles for that matter. Instead he became a mechanic. He opened a shop close to H.L. Commerce College simply called “The Auto Clinic”. As Satyam grew up he fell under his father’s assuming shadow. Satyam is also a mechanic six days during the week, but every Sunday you’ll find him at the back on the Gujari Bazaar selling charpies, usually fifty beds per day at 450-500 rupees per bed (about $450). The best part about this is Satyam does not manufacture the beds. He buys them from a town 40 kilometers from Ahmedabad. The person he buys from even delivers the bed to the Gujari Bazaar on Sunday morning around 5:30am. Satyam simply puts them together and makes considerable profit. Satyam’s cost per bed is around 200-250 rupees after delivery. Satyam used to live in a home under Ellis Bridge (the area where the market currently takes place) but because of the SRD project his home was demolished and he was shifted to an area 5-8 kilometers away. He seems to harbor little resentment about this. In fact, he speaks fondly of the SRD project and even admires the look of it. He even intimately associates the project with Gujarat’s Chief Minister (CM) Nendera Modi. Upon hearing this I asked Satyam what he thought of M.K. Gandhi. He responded, “Why talk about a dead man?” His response beautifully encapsulated a sentiment I have come across a lot lately. The Gujari Bazaar occurs around the 80 year old Maha Laxmi Mandir (Laxmi is the goddess of wealth and prosperity). Satyam’s family (mother, father, uncle and brother) live in a small home attached to the side of the Maha Laxmi Mandir, opposite the Ahmedabad Gujari Association office. They live here on rent to the Mandir Trust, paid presumably to the pandits (priests) of the mandir. They have lived in this home ever since Satyam’s grandfather moved to Ahmedabad in search of work in 1958.

Second: a group of three brothers, Sureshbhai (jokingly referred to as big brother), Kishorlal (medium brother) and Bharatbhai (small brother). They all sell books, magazines, textbooks, diaries, etc. If it’s made with paper ‘the brothers’ (as I call them) either have it or know where to find it. They second generation vendors and have been vending at the market together for over fifteen years. Their father used to sell textbooks to schools in Ahmedabad. Eventually he opened a shop called “Pravin Traders” located in the Khanpur area of Ahmedabad. His three sons inherited this business and a tradition that their father started of going every Sunday to the Gujari Bazaar laying down a mat, putting up an umbrella for shade and vending. On average ‘the brothers’ sell 200 books on a Sunday, which brings them around 3,000 rupees (about $60). Obviously, not as good as Satyam, but their cost per item is significantly less therefore their profit margin is still presumably high. They collect these books over time and have amassed quite a collection. Their store resembles something more like a warehouse. All of the books they sell at the market are second-hand. They purchase these books from bastiwallas (or recyclers who live in slums). I have not tracked down which bastiwallas or for how much they purchase the books. It should be said here that I am not principally interested in the economy of the Gujari Bazaar, rather, its social life. But invariably this social life includes economy, as the Gujari is first and foremost a space for doing business. Anyway, back to ‘the brothers’: I found the sharpest antagonisms towards the AGA among ‘the brothers’. I would not characterize it as tension and perhaps “antagonisms” is not the right word either. They seem to harbor a healthy skepticism towards the AGA, which has been amplified in the past few years because of the SRD project and the court case in which they obtained the new market space (more on this later). The AGA “requires” but does not force every vendor to register for a license. To obtain this license a vendor completes a form and pays 5-10 rupees. The license lasts for a lifetime but must be renewed every year for 5 rupees. Sureshbhai said, “We pay all this money, but where is it going? The AGA doesn’t provide us any infrastructure to sell our products. They simply assign a place for us.” I know 5 rupees per year does not sound like a lot, but with 1,200 registered vendors it adds up. 6,000-12,000 rupees per year is not enough money for the AGA to provide much if anything. Although I have yet to ask, I assume most of this money goes to paying its very small staff, which is barely enough to keep up. When I asked Sureshbhai what he wanted from this market he said, “I want the market to sell on Friday or Saturday also.” He expressed that this market is their lifeline and having more days to sell would be a major improvement. Him telling me this forced me to question the sense among vendors of maintaining tradition; of preserving heritage. The Gujari Bazaar only occurs on Sunday…isn’t this a part of its heritage? Well, as with most notions of “heritage” the Gujari’s is contested. When one speaks to the AGA or professors they are quick and enthusiastic to tell you the market is nearly 600 years old (apparently it will celebrate its 600 birthday in 2014). I am skeptical of these claims. By all accounts there was a bazaar tradition in Ahmedabad since its founding. But because Ahmedabad began as a Muslim city the weekly market occurred on Friday, not Sunday, in order to coincide with Friday worship. Also the weekly bazaar took place not in its current location but around Sidi Saiyad Masjid near Lal Darwaja. It is claimed that the market began on decree from Ahmed Shah (founder of the city) in 1414. This date is extremely significant because although the first masjid (mosque) was built in 1412 (Sidi Saiyad), where the market is claimed to have formed around, the Masjid of Ahmed Shah was completed in 1414. I’m just speculating here, but it very possible that the market began around the Masjid of Ahmed Shah, which is only a few steps from its current location. From 1414 to 1952 the main weekly market in Ahmedabad occurred on Friday. After 1952 (due to some government policy, which I have been thus far unable to track down), the market was shifted to Sunday. It is still unclear when the name Gujari came to define the market. And certainly the name “Sunday Market” only came after 1952. When I asked several vendors: how old is this market. They responded not by claiming a 600-year old history but by invoking a much more human scale. Sureshbhai said, at least 50 years old. When I asked Satyam’s father he said at least 75 years old. These dates coincide around the time the market was shifted from Friday to Sunday in 1952 and assigned a new location. Thus, the historical roots of the Gujari as understood by vendors and the AGA (and other “official” sources) are at odds. It may not be enough to say they are contested, but I suspect more political motivations in the invocation of a 600-year history that directly traces back to the founding of the city than one borne out by the facts of history. There are other conflicts between vendors and the AGA. I asked Bharatbhai, “What do you want for this market?” He responded in his typically calm philosophizing way, “Its not what I want from this market, but what this market wants from me. It is not up to me. It is up to the AGA and what they want from us.” I hesitate to make much out of this comment. This was the concluding remark in a long discussion about vendors’ relations to the AGA and I suspect tensions were tossed up from my questions. But this comment led me to think that prior to the influence of the SRD project, vendors may have felt or actually had a greater independence to conduct their own business and self-regulate their trade. In turn this may have led to a sense of place comprising a loose confederacy of independence evolving into a confederacy for informality. By this I mean, each vendor had or perceived autonomy in the marketplace and was able to assert themselves and their business as they saw fit, but this was generally in relation to others. A relationship built by social agreement. The AGA’s role was minor and only helped resist police harassment and extortion and settle large internal disputes. I suspect that after the formalization of the AGA due to its dealings with and proximity to the AMC, many of the vendors have felt a loss of this independence; that the AGA does not fully represent their interests anymore. There is a tendency among academics to intellectualize where none is needed. Perhaps I am already guilty of this, but this is a case where intellectualizing is both required and deeply inadequate. I am not sure how to think about this comment from Bharatbhai but it is a sense I have felt among passing comments by other vendors as well.

Third: Amit. Amit is a second-generation vendor at Gujari. He sells antiques that he finds in the rivers around Ahmedabad (Sabarmati and Narmada as well as the urban canals). He has anything from wristwatches and necklaces to eyeglasses and cameras to statues, big and small, of Ganesh, Hunuman, Radha-Krishna, Shiva…you name it! The collection he has amassed from the junk other people throw (or winds up) in the bottoms of rivers is extraordinary. He has been vending now for 15-20 years. He appears to be in his mid to late 20s. Amit has a wife and two children, all of which accompany him every Sunday. His stall is located directly under Ellis Bridge, opposite Manek Burj (the foundation stone of the ancient fort wall). I still know very little about Amit, but I look forward to learning more. What I do know however is that unlike Satyam, who renewed his father’s license, and ‘the brothers’, who each have individual licenses, Amit does not have a license to vend at Gujari. I was surprised to hear this. I asked Amit why he never applied for a license. He said, “Why should I be forced to get a license? I was born here. I grew up playing over there (gesturing to an area under Ellis Bridge) and my family used to vend right here.” Amit grew up in a hutment under Ellis Bridge. To him this is as much a personal space (a space integral to his life) as it is a space of business. From his point of view it is understandable not to apply for a license. He feels more connected to this space than the AGA, yet they are the stewards of this space; they are the ones making rules.

So this was just a short vignette about some of the vendors I have met at Gujari. Like I said before, I did not expect to find such skepticism among vendors towards the AGA. And in a way I feel sorry for the AGA. The president of the AGA, Nafis, is a good man. The AGA is made up of only him, his son, a secretary and five guards to keep watch and maintain the market. They are a bit disorganized and have certainly never faced the kind of political and legal pressure brought on by the SRD project.

So from here on I just want to share some thoughts: To me, to suggest that these vendors are “co-opted through their inclusion” (which one study suggested) holds little weight when explored on the ground. For the simple reason that “co-option” in whatever form is not permanent. To me, this idea and others like it appear conceptually valid from a distance, but to blanket a concept over a population residing or operating in one particular geographic area just because that area happens to coincide with the projects implementation is irresponsible. And once again, in such analytical prescriptions people are pushed to the margins. People like Satyam, Sureshbhai, Amit, and Bharatbhai (four of my good friends at the market), with their very attune and subtle socio-political perspectives are lost in such discourses. They are granted little to no agency, relegating them to the position of passive observes by an authoritarian state. But even worse than this they have no voice to articulate their subjection. Just because people like Satyam or Sureshbhai aren’t openly resisting does not mean they aren’t participating or, through negotiation, carving out a space for themselves in this new riverfront project. Revolutions and principled resistance are for the middle class or (at the very least) people privileged enough not to be so concerned about their day-to-day needs and circumstances. A project of this size is bound to accommodate individual and collective transformations from below as people move in and begin to claim and define the space in their image. To me, it is not the initial constitution of space that is troubling or that demands critique, but rather the future maintenance of the space. Will people like Sureshbhai and Satyam be able to realize their aspirations in the new marketplace or will their aspirations be determined for them? And, in such a context, how will future social negotiations play out?

This market appears to me to be an extraordinary space for fostering and maintaining social relationships. At the same time it should not be forgotten that this space is primarily a place of business; of transaction and exchange; of making a living. Sometimes the terms of sociality are found in these moments of conducting business. For instance, among vendors especially, the act of spending an entire day at the market among family members and friends offers an opportunity to joke, play, argue, gossip, engage in politics, and discuss business. Thus, while social maintenance is certainly at play the primary motive is business, but one does not seem to come at the exclusion of the other. There is a healthy balance of the social at work. It cannot be forgotten that Sunday is a day of leisure; a day when most people don’t work. I believe this attitude towards the use of a Sunday is carried over among market vendors. They come here to sell because its profitable, but they enjoy it because they are among family and friends.

I have begun to rethink this space as one of communal “harmony”. I fear this essentializes the day-to-day reality. Maybe communal “co-operation” or “mixture” might be more accurate. But even still I fear such labels homogenize the people here as a non-contentious mass. Even though this market has a profound mixture across religion, caste and class it is clear that individual disputes, arguments, and antagonisms exist and are sometimes acted upon. I witnessed a very heated dispute between a goat merchant (who was Muslim) and a “middle-man” (who was, I assume, Hindu). They were arguing, shoving and yelling about, what I found out later, was a dispute over a proper commission in which the man who was Hindu felt he deserved for managing and selling the goats. A commission per goat is to the tune of 500-1,000 rupees. I am still unsure of how many goats were involved in the dispute between these two men. This matters a great deal because 4-5 goats would drastically inflate the total commission, in which case a dispute is understandable although not acceptable. I am not theorizing from this dispute, but it simply caused me to rethink how I characterize this place, especially using shorthand expressions like “communal harmony.”

There is a striking ignorance about the Sunday Market among some middle-class or upper middle-class residents in Ahmedabad. Even some of the friends that I’ve made in Ahmedabad have never heard of the Sunday Market and certainly inscribe no significance to it. Even among the older, presumably well educated, English-speaking middle class there is little awareness or misinformation about the market itself. So much so that when I was at the British Library (mistakenly asking for any historical information on the Gujari Bazaar) a woman interjected that she knew the Gujari Bazaar but then couldn’t remember where it was or the name of Ellis Bridge. In light of such anecdotes it is tempting to confirm what I’ve heard, namely that the Gujari Bazaar is a “poor person’s market”. However, such caricatures fail, or at least breakdown, at a certain point. Certainly it is inadequate to describe what I’ve experienced at the Gujari Bazaar. I have met doctors and dentist, professors and tourists, businessman and students coming every Sunday. But in light of such isolations, at least as far as the Sunday Market is concerned, it is clear that the market caters to, or for whatever reason, attracts a very particular crowd of which clear lines cannot be distinguished. Market goers cross lines of class, religion, geographic distance and (most interestingly for me) age.