The Alternative

The eucalyptus tree collapsing on and killing vendors at the Supermarket area is a communal tragedy. For days, I thought of the chatty, smiling women sitting by their well-tended flowers in full, glorious bloom, trying to sell a pot or two for the day. How fragile life is. Like a flower that blooms for a season, and withers and falls away, so too the ones caught in the fury of the elements, have withered away, in a sudden sweep of cruel fate. That place will never be the same again, for it has seen sudden death. 

There have been members of the public coming forward to protest the government decision and action of cutting down all trees in the area. It was an unmindful decision of course, and possibly the government must have felt hard pressed for not taking care of the eucalyptus before. Was there an alternative? Could the existing trees have been partially cut, lopping off the top half and leaving the lower half so that it could serve as support for vendors to hang tarpaulin and get shelter from the Dimapur sun? This thought comes too late as many good thoughts do. But as one envisions a Supermarket area without any trees, one cannot help thinking of alternatives. The wonderful bazars that are held there as well as in other avenues of the town, are very essential to family life. Why not do more for the vendors? One is to make the Supermarket area safe for every vendor while providing them shelter from the heat and rain. Shelter is the obvious answer to this. Semi-permanent shelters that will be sturdy enough to withstand storms. The flimsy bamboo sheds without walls and an apology of a roof that many markets are made of, is not good enough. The market areas need proper shelters for the users with electrification possibilities so that they can use fans during the summer months. 

In many instances, the idea of creating markets at other avenues has often come up as a solution. But many times, it died a natural death because the users had their own reasons, based on marketing knowledge, of areas that work and areas that don’t work in spite of being provided with many facilities. It is such an interesting factor and is a factor that cannot be overlooked. We once did a project on vegetable vendors. On being questioned why they chose to sit by the wayside, and not at a designated market, all the women vendors replied that their customers knew they would be found by the wayside and not under a shed in some building. They would rather brave the elements and sit outside where they are sure they have a good chance of sales, rather than spend a day in the comfort of an RCC building and not manage to sell half their goods. It is a very interesting concept. It proves my theory that markets are organic entities. They resist being shoved into convenient spaces. They grow best where they can amorphously spread themselves, and proceed to live their lives unfettered. This fact will always bring vendors and governing agencies into friction because the vendors won’t want to move to the antiseptic, soulless spaces designed for them by bodies that think they know better. An unnecessary friction. The seller has an intuitive feel for the areas where sales will happen. The seller knows his or her market. Perhaps, the government can learn to respect that intuitive knowledge, and learn how to work with it to ensure safety and protection for the users of the market. 

In Manipur, stories abounded in the 60s and 70s that after closing down in the evenings, village markets became extremely dangerous places as they were taken over by the spirits. These were not ordinary spirits but the potent spirits of cackling old basket-carrying women. The contents of their baskets were hair-raising objects such as fingers and human intestines – and all kinds of things that made your insides curl in fear and disgust. Reports of this kind are almost non-existent now. But what we can take away from these accounts is that there is a spiritual element to a place that makes it a thriving market and another place not. Why not examine possible market avenues keeping the spiritual element in mind? For example, hiring experts who can check out the atmosphere of the place, and whether the vibes are positive or negative. Our ancestors, when checking out new places to settle, would sleep in the uninhabited territory and listen to their dreams, and their dreams rarely failed them. One of our ancestors dreamed of cows and domestic animals, and a great harvest of vegetables, gourds and pumpkins, for instance. He heard the cries of infants and woke up with the clear conviction that it would be ideal to settle a village in that area. And he was right. The years keep proving him right.

The Supermarket tragedy has led me to this conversation on reimagining markets. It is probably seasonal. Surely the right combination of resources and ancestral insight could come up with a solution that works for us.