The basis of independent India post-1948 was, to a large extent, the nurturing and maintaining of ‘unity in diversity’ – seen as the only conceivable blueprint for governing a people divided along regional, linguistic, religious and (far less so now) caste lines by the ruling Congress Party. While in New Delhi on business a week ago, I caught a glimpse of how this works in practice.
Getting a feel for how printer hardware and supplies are sold at Nehru Place, one of the major IT hubs of South Asia, I saw both sellers and consumers from all walks of life represented in its sizeable courtyard and surrounding maze of commercial units. One particularly amenable store manager told me over a cup of chai about the relatively peaceful coexistence of the hundreds of sellers in the complex, contrary to my assumption that competition would be fierce and perhaps even overwhelming in such a concentrated area. Further, he assigned one of his salesmen to take me on a whistle-stop tour, so that I could truly witness the variety on offer.
As we snaked in and out of passageways lined with tightly packed stores and circled the courtyard of makeshift stalls, I was pretty amazed by what I saw: shops dedicated to selling original merchandise from one of the major IT brands, next to cupboard-sized shops selling all sorts, stacked up to the ceiling like giant Jenga, and sole traders perched on the pavement curb carrying out ink cartridge refills.
There was no ‘one-stop shop’ to be found; each seller in the complex offered something different. The collective seemed more important than the individual businesses.
So my impression of Nehru Place in New Delhi was of a microcosm of India: highly populated, hugely diverse and above all, chaotic – but somehow (!), it works as a cohesive unit.