Their small economies

In ARCHITECTURE, LABOUR, TOURISM on December 4, 2012 at 9:04 pm

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I’ve got several poems about the people who work in the shadows of weighty buildings. These men, the sellers of souvenirs and toys, work outside the gates to the Badshahi Mosque and the Lahore Fort. Before tourists can get to the monuments and touch the buildings’ brick and marble surfaces, they must walk past the vendors. Should they choose to, they may haggle and chat, ask for directions, and use the vendors as informal sources of information regarding the buildings’ hours of operation etc. For many tourists, an encounter with these men and their goods for sale happens before their encounter with history, and in 2012, I was no exception.

The vendors of toys and souvenirs have a location but no fixed space for display, no fixed time at which they put their wares out, no fixed time of departure and, as a result, no fixed income for the day or the month. Their livelihood depends upon the good will, need, or excitement of tourists each day.

I spoke with many of the vendors in detail. After answering my questions and referring me to items for sale, one of them rightly asked: “If you are writing about buildings, what is the point of looking at miniature helicopters fashioned out of packing material or tiny silver boats named the titanic?”

If the writing is about monuments why was I wasting my time at the peripheries?

The souvenirs I saw are not souvenirs one buys when visiting the British museum or a Roman ruin. There are no replicas of monuments, no postcards to purchase and mail “home.” Here the objects for sale are mainly decorative or made for play, produced in home industries, usually created from recycled or leftover materials coming out of factories. For example, one vendor makes beautifully detailed and coloured slippers out of the scraps of material used in large-scale shoe production, each slipper the size of my pinkie finger. What the buildings and the slippers have in common is that both may be found in Lahore. The monuments constructed in Lahore of the past, and the slippers assembled and sold in Lahore of the present.

I see the men (vendors) as part of the living history of the monument. They are a part of their own time and, as actors in time they are also constantly in flow with a separate time, which occurs on the other side of the gates. In this way, the periphery is part of the centre.

A monument is defined as something “erected in memory of a person, event, etc., as a building, pillar, or statue.”

A  souvenir: from “noun use of ( se ) souvenir to remember < Latin subvenīre to come to mind, equivalent to sub- sub- + venīre to come.”

When the buildings come to mind so do the men, so do their small economies.



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