Urban spaces generally comprises of two basic elements, namely, streets and squares. Streets provide two main fundamental functions: movement and place. They are linear three-dimensional spaces, that are usually enclosed on opposite sides by buildings. However, they are different from roads/highways whose main purpose is just movement.
Streets determine the spatial characteristics of a city and are its most essential component. Every city has its distinctive characteristic which can be seen on its streets. They retain their unique identity by depicting their own sense of place. Not only that, they provide psychological and as well as utilitarian meaning to people’s lives.
Indian streets are bustling with energy and colors, which are used not only for commuting but also for performing various activities. Indian streets bring people together socially and provide a physical setting for socioeconomic activities. Tangible (the physical environment) and intangible (the ambient environment) features add values to street quality.
Moreover, streets are commercial in nature, with small shops selling goods and fresh food eateries can be found on every corner. The small-scale Industry as well as the repair industry is enormous, and you will find cluster of such mobile vendors who strategically place themselves on the streets to attract the right customers. In many ways, hawking and walking are interlinked. Opposite a quite residential street in Vadodara, where I lived most of my life, the day begins with a couple selling tea and snacks, while his brother cleans his auto rickshaw to start his day. By afternoon, more fresh vegetable pushcart vendors start appearing. Generally, these small vendors sell more fresh products than what we get in grocery stores. A scrap collector would cycle by collecting all the old newspapers from door to door. Also, a knife sharpening man would cycle by, loudly asking if anyone needs to sharpen their knives. A barber and a cobbler would sit in shade beneath an old banyan tree. And, In the nearby tent, there is a family who makes and sells traditional bamboo reeds and stools, their kids would also participate in the work. And as the day descents, all the eateries serving hot, tantalizing dishes and mouthwatering desserts, starts turning up. There are millions of self-employed workers who live and make their living on the streets. Additionally, during months that lead up to festivals, many make kites or sculpt votive images of gods and goddesses on the sidewalk. Appadurai (1987, p. 14)correctly asserted that “On its streets, India eats, sleeps, works, moves, celebrates and worships.”. Indian streetscape contains a wide diversity of urban practices and is a place of social experience. Streets in Urban India offer a spectacle that captures wanderers’ imaginations (cf. Endersor 1998) But this spectacle is premised on pulling this spectator into other worlds. Here the boundaries between work and home, public and private, formal and informal are blurred.
Meandering on the streets is a feast for all your senses. One would experience all sorts of smells on the street, from florists to fresh food stalls. These smells direct you towards variety of food. Smell of fresh spices waft up from the roadside snack stalls, also, people light incense to attract Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, into their homes and their workplaces. Furthermore, if streets are in religious precincts, then another dimension is added. There will be florists as well as people selling religious items/offerings who are stationed on the path. Indians like to take it to streets on all important festive occasions, whether they are celebrating a wedding, a sports game victory, or a religious event.
There will be auto rickshaws (tuk-tuk), street vendors, cars, bicycles, scooters, buses, trucks and yes, a few domestic animals too. You will also find places where all the auto rickshaw drivers bombard you , desperate to help you to take you to your destination and make business.
There are so many sounds, from cars to motorbikes. As there are so many people on the streets doing variety of activities the use of horn is in fair amount. On the other hand, apart from the transportation noise, you would also get to hear street vendors shouting slogans to sell their products and make business.
Is it possible to find peace in chaos? May be, yes. Growing up in a densely populated region, I tend to find streets in west a little mundane. It might appear like a mad fete where everyone is rushing towards something. I know the chaos and noise can get on people’s nerves. But, the streets in India do have a character. There is never a dull moment anywhere.
We generally use streets as a pathway to reach our destination. But, can a street be a destination? In India, it is a workplace, a social space, and a home.