Phantasms in a "Starry" Place: Space and Identification in a Central New Delhi Market

Excerpt From Essay

"I climb off a three-wheeler close to the market where my informants generally meet. I touch the ground and am immediately invited to climb into another. A kind and insisting ricksha whalla is eager to take me to a "very beautiful and cheap" handicraft shop. I look at him but walk past into the market. A small Kashmiri vendor with henna-tainted beard approaches me on the sidewalk dis- cretely whispering in my ear, "Hash, hash? Smoke, smoke?" I turn toward him only to become distracted by a group of Gujarathi women displaying their hand-painted textiles on the hot and dusty ground. Their piercingly sweet voices rise above the more distant shouting of the clothes vendors, "Sir, sir, look at my paintings, 100 rupees only!" Men are standing on tables displaying cheap locally made knockoffs of Nike and Adidas shirts, trousers, and shorts. The shouts of the vendors, "Sao ki tin, sao ki tin [three for 100 rupees]," turns into a rhythmic choir that merges beautifully with the music of ' Kya surat hae [What a beautiful face]." This latest hit song by the Bombay Vikings, a Bombay and Gothenburg-based group, spills out of a loudspeaker located under the sign of a shop called Travolta. The music recedes into the background as I no- tice the approach of a Hare Krishna devotee who I judge, by his accent, to be East European. Reading a few lines out of the Bhagvad-Gita, he asks me in English for money to buy a meal. I become distracted by an electronic version of Jingle Bells played by a car backing up in the street as this European manifestation of Krishna moves out of sight. A smiling and tempting hijra (eunuch, hermaphrodite, transvestite) stands now in front ot me. With one hand leaning against her curved hips and the other gently pointing open at me, she asks me for money or else she threatens to lift up her skirt and show her "jewels." Young men in tight T-shirts show their biceps while observing a group of blonde female tourists involved in investigating the quality of a kurta (long 2 shirt) decorated by an OM-sign, which is on display in one of the stands. The vendor in his worn white kurta invites them to consider a T-shirt displaying the text "OM-Sweet-OM" on the belly (see Figure 1). As I observe the spectacle offered by the street, I realize that I am not only a spectator but also part of the passing scene. My informants, watching from a thin metal fence placed be- tween the market and the shopping colonnade on which they sit drinking tea, and make laughing comments to each other about me."

"Phantasms in a "Starry" Place: Space and Identification in a Central New Delhi Market," Paolo Favero (551-2).

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