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Organised and Unorganised Sectors: Learnings from India’s Marketplaces

Written by Aruni Mukhopadhyay and Rituparna Mahapatra


More often than not, we come across films and books, magazines and journals, of a documentative sort that chronicle the culture, history, and rich diversity of India. It isn’t rare, to perhaps, be presented with a multifaceted account of the assortment of markets that embed themselves organically in the roots of our culture and people. Our country is a melting pot of cultures and crafts, teeming with splendid bazaars sprinkled across urban centres, and a lot of us, have had the privilege to be immersed in the mix.

We could get the ball rolling by trying to outline what a market here in India truly is. It could be said that a bazaar is in principle but a network of streets and lanes, populated by mostly informal shops and stores selling paraphernalia. It culminates of its many components, to create a very porous and live atmosphere, for commercial exchange. When we take a good look at the bazaars around us–often, we chance upon the two sorts thriving in harmonious coexistence; wherein one, generally the informal half, moulds itself in, through, and around the pre-established formal other. A formal bazaar is one where the edges of the market are defined, and there exists a degree of order and permanence. The architecture that it inhabits is often built to its purpose. On the other hand, we have the incredulously exciting environment of informal bazaars, which are rather ephemeral. Markets of this sort, generally wrap themselves around an existing commercial centre, where decades of relevance have equipped them with a dedicated mass consumer base.

Growing typology of the shops from 'unorganised' to 'organised'

A marketplace is channelled through in the aspects of growth, by the very places which surround it, and this move per se, could be formulated, or by chance. The newly planned city of Bhubaneswar encompasses, sharply designated areas, each suiting a certain function, based on effective land-use zoning, whereas cities that have been around for centuries on end, such as Kolkata, have fashioned themselves rather organically.

A bazaar, adjacent to a prime residential area, is denoted by an assemblage of small stores, selling to one’s everyday needs, often referred to as ‘kiranas’ selling a plethora of items. Likewise, a marketplace in a locality, with a surplus in tourism, may resort to selling trinkets or memoirs that in one way or another, embody the ‘personality’ of the area. Another sort of these markets may incorporate handicraft stores selling craft items, native to the place, amplifying the place’s character. A marketplace often ends up as an urban landmark. Johari Bazaar and Bapu Bazaar in Jaipur are some of the best examples in this case.

Hawa Mahal Bazaar in Jaipur | Photograph by Daniel Villafruela

A handful of informal markets often end up sprouting near expansive commercial and educational establishments, to serve the undeniably lofty probabilities of running a profitable business. However, they rarely ever become large-scale marketplaces owing to underlying factors, ranging from lack of real estate to a monotonous consumer base.

The entry to New Market from Bertram Street

A landmark, according to Kevin Lynch, is a point-reference which the observer may or may not enter. It involves singling out of a solitary object from a host of possibilities. Common examples in the case of a marketplace include a particularly popular store famous for its products, or an uncanny object, which astonishes one by its due presence. Often perceived by the user as guidance aids, they are often easily registered by an outsider. In the dense, almost intangible web that is formed by the complex paths in several organic marketplaces, landmarks hold an indispensable position.

As one thinks of the paths in a marketplace, one wonders if the stalls came first or the paths? Unlike the chicken and egg causality dilemma, this one is not indecipherable. In the case of the Maeklong railway market in Thailand, it is evident that the paths led to the formation of the very linear market on either side of the railway tracks. Whereas, in the case of several organic markets, the markets led to the formation of the paths, often very chaotic leading to almost everyone losing their way.

Market area acting as an edge to the main complex | Photograph by Prateek Karandikar

As we move ahead with our analysis, we inevitably notice something rather special to our marketplaces. What we choose to denote as edges, tend to spill out and over, despite a wall often found scaling up, smack on the heels of the stalls in question. The quirk, being addressed, is a prevalent trait for both marketplaces, alike. Now, it is for us to ask whether this was a shortcoming of planning or rather, mismanagement? Despite the aforementioned wall, which is often associated with being the cardinal edge chanced upon in marketplaces, there are a handful of others at play, from drains to perhaps even a canal, or even an odd dead end. However, snags in safety and sanitation are common and awfully often. Habitually shrugged off by the people, as they are an unfortunate letdown, in being of any use, save for parking, and on occasions; they wind up as dump yards or an ill-lit patch of land that plays host to sporadic activity. As a result, it seems rather redundant to say that these spaces must be given precedence, during planning and maintenance.

We’ve heard about the Agora, which was a nucleus of public space in ancient Greek city-states. On scaling down, we could perhaps question the existence of nodes in bazaars. Customarily, there exist quite many nodes embedded. One could spawn, from a medley of factors. For all you know, it’s a junction and behaves quite like a point of pause, for the frequenting passer-by. The nodes are the busiest, often hinting that the stores located near are likely to be bustling with business. Likewise, a sought after and successful store reveling in a booming business, independent of its location, ends up as a node unto itself, thus throttling the local economy. This phenomenon transpires, spanning a good deal of time, and is often come across, in older marketplaces, where marketing is driven on the word of mouth. A curious aspect to be mindful of in marketplaces, is an array of stores flanked along, selling similar goods. Here, its whereabouts play a pivotal role in dictating the success of a said store. Shops cashing in on sitting closest to the predominant routes taken would hit the jackpot.

It would be fair to say that the marketplace is easily one of the most zestful places amidst the urban. Bazaars refrain from prejudice, and people of all ages and wealth flock in, without the slightest hesitation, whatsoever, quite polar to the malls draped in glass, that daunt quite the bunch. A mother steps inside, her child holding on, to buy groceries for the young family afoot, for they don't live afar. She pays a visit to the reliable ‘kirana’ store, whilst remaining heedful, steering clear of all the toy stores en-route. As the sun is on its way, a group of young teenagers stroll down the arteries, with no intention of making any significant purchase. The tea seller looks at them with beaming eyes knowing that he is going to sell a sizable number of teacups and biscuits. The only other time he can hope for such significant deals is in the morning when a group of working men and women, of all ages, stop by, with their bikes parked, and continue sipping several cups of tea and chat away only to realise that they are going to be late to work. All these people are generally unaffected by the character, background, or even the name of the person standing right next to them. A few may recognise some faces but rarely consider making small talk with them. This is both a boon and a curse. It is perhaps the reason anyone can enter the marketplace without being worried about being judged for the type of clothing they or the brand of the bag they carry. At the same time, it is a curse as one cannot imagine the rubber-necking to leave much scope for social interactions.

A typical kirana store | Photograph by Sheetal Jayaraj

An engaging quality of stalls, particularly those thriving off the grub they cook, is how the thresholds of space tend to inflate upon crowding. More often than not, the array of stalls, lining the streets mazing through IT parks selling hot plates of kachoris and samosas, among other quick delicacies, take up little room. They’re generally fashioned out of bamboo, or perhaps steel, and the corners rest steadily on bricks which don’t budge and are saved from a downpour with a sheet of tarpaulin. A couple of plastic seats are cleaned and set out, optimistically. The occupied volume is rather small, especially against the backdrop of the IT park, however, this changes no sooner than a bunch of young people, clad in ties and sarees, pull up a chair and work at the plate resting on their palm. Corporeally, the limits of the stall extend to the edges drawn by the poles holding the tarpaulin in place, it is only when people gather around, await their plate eagerly, and enjoy a snack together, that we see how flexible and porous the boundary really is. Even though the ambiguity of being inside/outside tends to persist, as you watch the stall in action, and as the chairs spread out, it is quite like the being of the stall itself, is stretching out. Unlike formal establishments, the space demarcating the bounds of the stall is bound to a constant state of flux, primarily carved by content customers and their spread. One could even say that the success of it could be derived from this ethereal, porous forcefield, and how what is “inside”, continues to crawl concentrically further out, possibly to a degree which may even affect the functionality of spaces nearby, bordering on encroachment. It could lead to a little patch for parking, just ahead, and be given a company by stalls that pop up in hope, witnessing the huddle. The spontaneity of it, minuscule but in great numbers on an urban scale, is riveting.

Economies under tarpaulin sheets, flanking the Hogg Market Building
Economies under tarpaulin sheets, flanking the Hogg Market Building

As we stroll on through the lanes of New Market, down Lindsay Street, we’ll witness a medley of stores go by, selling bootleg Air Jordans to some of the finest qualities of cheese, bustling with enthused customers. Within this hotchpotch, one comes across a few sorts of stores, all of varying degrees of stoutness. It’s like a hierarchy, where you have got a few stores that have been around for ages like those in New Market and their walls have had their ears to the swarm for over a century, and those which spring up now and then, still defined by the aforementioned bubble, yet to piece together walls around. The lovely restaurant Nizams, the century-old bakery Nahoums, Babur Ali, a nursery called Globe Nursery, and stores like Vibrations, that sells records and music-inspired clothing, have all been integral to the commerce, and for decades on end, with generations of the families running the stores, each passing the baton down to their children. Stores with a legacy, or having a lion's share of market presence, primarily occupy formal, built spaces, where the demarcations of inside and outside aren’t very ambiguous. A lot of them, like those set up along Lindsay Street, behind the Oberoi Grand, comprise a store, along with an additional extrusion, over the sidewalk, exhibiting a lot of more their collection than they could, draping a tarpaulin sheet over bamboo stilts, above their goods, which lay spread across the tables. This is the general route taken to expand. The other stalls and stores, all out of luck, set themselves up along the sidewalk, either with a suitable arrangement of a covered counter, with more at the back, or even often a meager cut of cloth spread along the sidewalk, like in front of the Peerless Inn, where the seller sits on the concrete, with their back to the boundary wall, vending accouterments of all sorts to passers-by, who often crowd around even onto the street. Hence, in terms of hierarchy, each store architecture depends on the rung above it, and generally sets up shop in accordance with the location and size, hoping to move itself up. We can perceive the various typologies, through these examples, and the spectrum of permanence and establishment.

We will ponder on, and explore the quirky phenomenological narrative a market embodies, with its many atmospheric and spatial qualities. Although we most often chance upon the expression ‘phenomenology’, most prevalently in literature penned by architects and philosophers of the ‘West’, it’s very corporeal elucidation, is something we bear an intense acquaintance with, in markets over here. Phenomenological qualities of architecture are the aspects of a piece of architecture, which play a direct role in crafting the overall experience of spaces and the act of transitioning through them, and such traits are often integral to the design process of several modern architects, such as Peter Zumthor, Steven Holl, Juhani Pallasmaa and so on. Time and again, these very qualities have very organically characterised street markets, especially here in India, for they have numerous embedded acoustic, haptic, visual, and olfactory triggers, rendering quite an experience for people strolling by.

People flocking to New Market in really high numbers.

Here, let's wet the brush a bit. It's a hot Calcutta Saturday morning, and it’s nearing the end of a delightful summer. You’ve battled the traffic through Chowringhee, and made your way down, weaving through a constellation of cars, mostly draped in yellow and white. You look up to a lovely light blue speckled with fluffs of white, quite shy of each other, as you alight from your Uber and onto the street, that skirts the eastern face of the white brutalist mass that is the Peerless Inn. The car makes off in hot pursuit of the rest, trying to make the next light, as you take a step onto the sidewalk, saving yourself from the sweltering sun and walking on ahead. Over in this part, you’ll witness sheer expanses. You stand across Jawaharlal Nehru road, buzzing with a sea of pistons, and heading on to coalesce with the Park Street Flyover high up, while a little further, over on the other bank, spreads the lungs of Kolkata, the Maidan, furnished with acres on end of lush green, as far as the eyes can see. With a better look on ahead, you’ll spot towers soaring to stroke the sky, namely, the Tata Centre and the Chatterjee International Centre, and the mammoth of the 42. The prevalent dimensions of forms are rather stupendous, rather contrasting to what lay ahead.

You stroll on lightly ahead, through the shade on the sidewalk, where fortunately it’s as cool as it could be, with the ground parching all around. The dim shade is often interrupted by a thin tear in a sheet, or perhaps where two reach out to the other, like slits letting in a beam of India's infamous summer. The smell of exhaust fumes wafts your way, as you walk on drenched in sweat. The light murmur of pedestrians passing by dies out to the incessant horns blaring from impatience. You saunter past a cart or two, as you meander to your left, where you come onto a street, with a compact volume enclosure. Up ahead, the red brick building of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation sits stately, in stark contrast to the hard-pressed vendors, selling smaller goods off a rag spread out on the vanishing pavement. The sounds of the traffic die out in the distance, and the place feels abuzz with families and friends, out and about. Vendors lining up the walls call out in search of likely customers, in the parlance, often crafting a vocal niche. A few shake their utensils, as they swiftly whip up their specialities. An elderly man, coughs at a little smoke by the stall in a corner, while young toddler shrieks at the sight of a new toy. Onwards, the dynamics of proxemics alter briskly, from a lighter flocking on the street, to a heavier swarm as you near the junction. The flux of people soars quite like a tsunami, with every corner turned, destroying the steady progression of alternate proxemics.

No sooner than later, the distant mist of vehicular fume is quashed, although the heavy crowd offers little to no relief. It’s a field of faces, of people, quite like you. They’re primarily from in and around Kolkata, but scores of them have made their way to New Market from the farthest reaches of the country, and perhaps even further afar. As you make your way, seeping onto Bartram Street after a curious corner, clouds of blended scents await you. Smaller stalls, and hawkers, thread along the sides of the street, cooking up rolls, chowmein, ‘pakoras’, ‘badas’, ‘chana bhatura’, ‘ pav bhaji’ and shakes, juices, and lassis that have been whipped up on the spot. The whiff of frying onions and spices tossed parathas with chicken and sauces, and the savour of pools of butter, glide your way. A little further down Bertram Street, the olfactory narrative, from the shabby cloud of fumes to an atmosphere of delicacies is rather a noteworthy one. Little groups gather round, to the side, pull up a set of bright red plastic seats, and work at their cravings.

As you walk down the street, nothing but the sky above you, budging through the crowd, steering clear and trying not to bump into anybody, the countless colours, textures, and materials take turns to unveil themselves to you. Quite a few boutiques and parlours, selling everything from bangles to snapbacks, from slippers to junk jewelery and bootlegged French handbags. They’re often offered in a handful of colours, textures, and fabrics, and flaunt hoardings that are often rather pop in their aesthetic, no matter where you look. The counters are draped in a great many tones, as are the sheets running over the frames, and it is quite like pacing along with a kaleidoscope. Along with its culture of frugal fashion, the place also offers up counters bedecked in colourful confectionery, which are visual and tasteful delights.

Variations in permanence and establishments | Credit: Author

You have been strolling along for a while now, popping in and out from under the shade, ever so often. The street, in terms of its level and gradient, has been as consistent as it comes in Kolkata, by and large in a part that's over a century old. To your left, you'll come up across a red behemoth that is the Hogg Market, the very crux of New Market, from where the ripples of informal commercial exchange radiate. Although, at its foot have spawned a plethora of stalls, a little tilt of your chin and you’d see the remarkable architecture, beaming in red, adorned with green arched jalousie windows of a time gone by. A turn to your left, and a few steps further, you make it inside the Hogg Market and you walk onto a platform, and you stand there, perplexed in the dark. Ahead is nothing but a pure abyss, a wholesome potpourri of the old and new, cosmetics, clothing, and cakes, in a labyrinth of slabs and walls. Over in this part, above you, is everything but sky, and the sudden suppression in the perceivable volume does take you by surprise. The Hogg Market is a collective of several buildings, which individually are units, and it comprises multiple floors, entries, and exits. Once you walk in, the volume closes in on you, and the crowds become stronger. It’s a little hot, but you’re in quite some shade, and you cease to sweat profusely. Further on, a blend of aromas of cakes and cookies, freshly baked right around the corner, make their way to you, and unfortunately, the stench from the meat market doesn’t spare you. Inside the market, also runs a lane that offering cheese for sale, apart from the wonderful aroma as you stroll on. A section dedicated to stores selling nuts and biscuits from all over the world embodies a fragrant appeal too.


Indian Bazaars encompass a perpetual flux in visual, acoustic, haptic, and olfactory triggers, along with the rhythms of light, volume, and levels. And the overall transition in the space portrays itself as rather dramatic. So, the question is, what distinguishes a market from a marketplace? What is the primary difference between the two?

An economist’s answer could be, ‘A market is a place where two parties can gather to facilitate the exchange of goods and services. The parties involved are usually buyers and sellers. The market may be physical like a retail outlet, where people meet face-to-face, or virtual like an online market, where there is no direct physical contact between buyers and sellers.’[1] In this definition, we note that the role of infrastructure has not been mentioned, implying that it may not be essential in the future. Also, it considers the two terms as one synonym for one-another.

With the advancement of technology, marketplaces have shifted to a digital platform, not only can one order their daily groceries online but also various essential services. However, we cannot help but ponder, is this the appropriate advancement we should be vouching for? The lockdowns implied during COVID-19 loosely present to us a scenario where one will not have to step out to the marketplace at all. Demolition of marketplaces is not an alien concept and has been done before several times, especially during the industrial age, examples include, Covent Garden Market in London and the Les Halles in Paris.[2]

Although the complete devaluation of marketplaces today is a highly debatable and sensitive subject and is perceived in many different ways across disciplines, it can be safely said that, in the architects’ fraternity, not a lot are in favour of complete removal of the concept of marketplaces.[3]

A bazaar scene in India, 1950s | Photograph by Mennonite Church USA Archives
A bazaar scene in India, 2015 | Photograph by Nimesh Dusra

The advancement in technology brings about several challenges in designing the marketplace. The probable shift in the basic concept of the marketplace may reduce a lot of display areas in shops to mere storage areas with shelves of products waiting to be delivered. Although, recent policies have reconsidered the value of these markets, both a large marketplace and a small store located in a residential neighbourhood, and have stated that ‘No hawker/street vendor should be arbitrarily evicted in the name of 'beautification' of the city space. The beautification and clean-up programmes that are undertaken by the states or towns should positively involve street vendors in the process.’[4] This points towards a gradual recognition of the value of markets and bazaars and efforts towards change.

In the larger cities, the shift towards online shopping may result in the eventual breakdown of the large marketplace into smaller pockets of storage huts, which is easier to be maintained by the government. Change is inevitable, but the extremely important question we must ask ourselves is that, is this the change we want?



[1] ‘Market’ by Will Kenton, reviewed by Micheal J. Boyle.

[2] Economist Antoine Augustin Cournot

[3] ‘The Future of Public Markets and the Case of the Lexington Market in Baltimore’ by Klaus Philipsen.

[4] National Policy on Urban street vendors


Rituparna and Aruni, are recent graduates of architecture, from PMCA Cuttack, and they live in Bhubaneswar and Kolkata, respectively. Ritu enjoys reading, sewing and tennis on the occasion, and Aruni loves playing football and photography.


Editorial: Hamza Abdullah Graphics: Rizwan Ahmad Khan


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