Mobile Mumbai

IMAGE: Mobile Mother Dairy, vending pasteurised milk, breads, and eggs.

These images all come from the VeloWala website, an online archive of bicycle-based commerce created by Avinash Kumar of Quicksand, in partnership with B.L.O.T. (who also recently created a great interactive guide to Mumbai for The Guardian), Codesign, and BOX Design + Research.

IMAGE: Four wheels are required for ice lollies and lemonade vending. Don’t miss the gorgeous marble-sealed Nimbu Lemon bottles on the bottom right.

John Thackara, who commissioned the project for the 2008 St. Etienne International Design Biennial, asked Kumar to document “something of the variety and vitality of people selling things from or on bicycles in Delhi,” in order to “sensitise people to the fact that bike-based commerce does not have to be backward looking or boring….”

While the original installation featured video and audio recordings (although sadly no olfactory reconstructions), even this static photo archive communicates the incredible variety and ingenuity of urban India’s mobile entrepreneurs. Makeshift spigots and flywheels, collapsible surfaces, intricate stacking systems, and artfully arranged displays are balanced atop two, three, or even four bicycle wheels in order to be pushed or ridden around the city.

IMAGE: Cholle vending, complete with kerosene burner and slimline eating surface.

Street snacks, lentils, vegetables, and perishables such as ice-cream or milk are all sold from wheeled units, while domestic cooking-related services such as gas delivery, rubbish pick up, and knife-sharpening are also provided by enterprising velowalas, adding up to a heavily bike-dependent urban food system.

It’s an interesting thought experiment to replace each one of these examples with a lorry or static shop (as they would be in most of the developed world), and take note of everything that is lost in the transition, as well as perhaps what is gained, such as greater efficiency and (occasionally) higher food safety standards.

IMAGE: Gas cylinder delivery service.

IMAGE: Machine-cold water.

IMAGE: An intriguing business model: this man sells digestive supplements, but will also swap your worn-out currency for new.

Although these images were taken in Delhi, I am posting them in anticipation of my own imminent visit to Mumbai, where I plan to emulate this survey of mobile culinary services (complete with tastings, as appropriate). Until my return, make sure to browse the full VeloWala archive. And many thanks to John Thackara and Avinash Kumar for this link, and for all their help in setting up my visit!

IMAGE: Mobile knife-sharpening.

IMAGE: Mobile kulfi popsicle-maker

IMAGE: Bike-based recycling and rubbish pick-up.

The best spot in town for vegetable sales? Next to the condom vending machine, apparently. Another example of leveraging mobility to access prime real estate.

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2 Comments

  1. Mat
    Posted March 31, 2012 at 3:34 am | Permalink

    BOX is the best I can find about it – it seems their own link is broken too.

  2. Posted March 2, 2012 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    The BOX design+research link is broken?

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