Thursday, February 07, 2008

India – 6 February 2008 – The Market

Frank and I spent hours this afternoon with two Indian friends in one of Delhi’s market areas. This was quite some distance from the hotel, so we traveled over in a car owned by some other friends and returned in an “auto.” In this case, auto means a three-wheeled green and yellow vehicle that carries two passengers. It is covered, but open on the sides. One gets right up close and personal to the traffic. Many times we passed within an inch or two of another vehicle. Autos are not expensive. A 25 minute ride cost Frank and I 42 rupees….just over a dollar (about 38 rupees = 1 dollar right now).

Jyotsna has a small Christian bookstore in the market, and we met him there. Premdeep arrived not long after and we went to visit a typesetter where Jyotsna had arranged for some Hindi typesetting of a New Testament.

But before getting to the typesetter, let me paint a picture of the market.

Along the narrow streets are thousands of little shops, people in little stalls, or just a small corner where commerce is taking place. All kinds of foods are being sold from shops, and others on bicycles are calling out what they have as they pass by. Overhead a welter of wires and cables of varying ages and danger pass. Under our feet….well, better not to go there. One watches where the feet fall.

The market, Jyotsna explains, is much better than a shopping mall. Everything is available in a small area, from services to goods and food. The prices are also better, if more negotiable. There are fixed price stores, but not here, apparently. Prices for us are higher, as we look like we can pay more. We are a few pale faces in a sea of delightful hues of brown.

In the typesetters shop we first pass an open anteroom with a roof but no windows or doors. A metal pull down door closes the place off at night. In the anteroom, some young women are industriously typing. Later, it develops that they are typing on the QWERTY English keyboard for practice. A progression of other faces followed, including one young man who was guilelessly interested in everything we had to say and do. He didn’t understand a great deal of English, but clearly thought that he could peer into all that we were doing and listen intently to all that we were saying. He wasn’t obnoxious in his manner, just obviously not raised by mind-your-own-business parents.

Jyotsna took me to a shop through the crowded streets of the market where I could recharge my and Frank’s SIM cards. An older Indian man wrote down our telephone numbers and called over a younger man who did some tricks on a cell phone….and credit suddenly appeared in my phone.

Speaking of cell phones, the rate is quite cheap, and we aren’t paying a farthing to receive calls. BUT, we are inundated by SMS calls for all kinds of interesting things. Well, I guess they’re interesting things; the ads are mostly in Hindi, including the voice ads. Sigh…maybe that’s the price for cheap cell phone access.

Back to the market: washing is hanging out from balcony windows creating a lively competition with the colorful signs advertising everything. The washing wins, however, by virtue of having been washed in this decade.

Speaking of that, I have looked carefully, and impeccable casual attire is very much the norm on the Delhi street. It seems an improbable contrast against the dust and rubbish, but it isn’t: these are a very clean people with a high standard of hygiene. There are many exceptions, of course, but most tend to be well turned out; the men mostly in western attire, and the women mostly in beautiful Indian dress of many colors. I have to say that I find the women’s clothing very attractive.

A little later, trying to puzzle our way through putting together a Hindi translation of the Gate to Life on the web, Jyotsna and I traipsed across the street to an “internet café” where we could work for 10 rupees an hour. The “café” consisted of 8 small booths with impossibly small monitors, but passable speed. The keyboards were in English. Few people use Hindi keyboards; all the young people want to practice English, he explained. He and I fit into the booth with scarcely room to breathe. Personal space is not a big issue here.

By the way, English is the common language in this incredibly multi-lingual country. There are literally hundreds of languages here. It is also the language of commerce. Premdeep and his wife speak English in the home because the languages of their raising are mutually incomprehensible.

In the end, we went away somewhat frustrated. There is much that can be obtained here, but for us, the exact fonts we needed for typesetting, and the access to the Internet by the right people just wasn’t available.

But the market… what an experience that was. I found it fascinating in a rich, very human way, even if one not very familiar to me.

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