By Anish Dayal
I never cease to get amazed by the ingenuity of the entrepreneurial Indian. They abound every nook and cranny of this multi-layered city – from the computer sale shops in Nehru Place to the electronic markets in Bhagirath Palace in Chandini Chowk; from the chaat waala round the corner to the chhalli (corn) selling chap down the road; from the key maker to the bamboo chick seller on the pedestrian paths. But what’s top of the pops for me is the street sellers, the young enthusiastic fellas, who creep up on your car selling goodies from the heaven to the earth. Clearly there must be some home-grown organized system and an ad hoc supply chain behind these street retailers. But that apart, the range of stuff they peddle is incredible. At 5 am on a Saturday, on the way to the Delhi Airport while nursing a sulk and cursing the 9 am meeting in Mumbai, I encounter dozens of these guys on the red light selling a packaged nimbu-mirch totem; for the uninitiated it’s lemon-green chilli combo that hangs on so many entrances in India and is believed to ward off evil. Canny marketing – right on spot for our superstitious lot, who feel they need that little divine fillip on Saturdays. I had half a mind to take one of those to protect myself against the evil client I was going to see but the lights changed, sadly.
If this can be shrewd marketing then please hold your breath – on the way back from the airport, you would encounter another teenage gang selling airplane toy models. Clearly someone knows that kids just removed from the excitement of being on a plane must be missing the experience and what’s better than cashing on it! Astute situational selling. Then there is the occasion oriented selling – so just before Valentine’s Day in February you would find roses and cheap plastic heart shaped trifles appearing on the roads, water guns before Holi, annual calendars in the first week of January, mini-tricolors before independence day in August, LED decoration lights before Diwali, car shades all through the summer, umbrellas in the monsoon, blankets in the winter. And of course the piles of tissue boxes are all-season favourites!
Wonder sometimes whether some centralized marketing brain exists behind this seemingly disparate and disjointed activity at each red light? Is there some organized hand coordinating these young street runners who come to your car and push surprisingly appropriate stuff under your nose? Or is it just the perspicacious, nimble and ingenious enterprise of many trying to earn their daily bread. Whatever it is, there is no denying the surprise in stirring out from your half-slumber when the car brakes at the red light and have a beaming toothless face managing an askew Christmas hat on his unruly head and holding up two portly, generously proportioned Santa Clauses for sale. God saved me from what would have been yet another unfulfilled promise to my dear niece. Thanks little sir, I’ll take both!