From the Stock Market to Neighbourhood Mohalla

Posted by Prasad Krishna at Dec 17, 2010 05:10 AM |
The stock markets have been the symbol of trade and commerce of the city and the region. In this post I will analyze the stock market; an important commercial institution and try and articulate its changing architectural configuration and its impact on neighborhoods and other public domain of the city. The change in information technology has had a profound effect on the business methodologies of the stock brokers and traders in the last few years with possibilities for buying and selling during the market hours from any internet enabled device. The pundits have announced that the “market is in your pocket or at the comfort of your home”. Is it really so or is the change more subtle? Moreover how will our cities and their public place transform from such shift?

The market refers to a system, institution or arrangement by which certain transactions are executed. The stock market space (building or group of buildings) is usually unique to a larger space (city, region or country) and indicative of the economic interest of corporates, organizations, government and individual investors. The stock market space itself, is one that has traditionally been highly networked node, collapsing together communications with other global markets, financial institutions, agents, investors and government bodies. Communication technology in the form of telecommunication, fax and telegram have been the lifeline to support transactions in the stock market space.

The floor of the stock market is the physical manifestation (both of symbolic and utilitarian value) of the institution of stock trade. It has been the place where the agents using information, negotiate and transact on shares for their respective clients. The space of the floor with information being displayed on the sides has been the image that is used in many movies to symbolize trade and commerce. The floor is projected and perceived as the center sanctum of the stock trading activity at large.

Trading of stocks of all possible kind is possible from a computer connected to internet using real time information of the market. Stock market building space as well as the floor do continue function as central places of trade but immense volume of trade is being done through internet enabled devices across the country. Moreover the program and structure of stock brokers office has radically changed in the last few years. The stock broking office has now become the mini floor of the trade where decisions are taken about buying and selling. The stock broking offices are now the decentralized units that are everywhere, like the ATM machines in the city. They are the neighbourhood investing space.

Story: Where to Kanti bhai?

Kanti bhai was worried that morning. He was running late and was driving swiftly to beat the railway crossing. His old bajaj was holding  well competing with the jazzy Japanese collaboration bikes as he raced towards the crossing. He could never understand why youngster spend that kind of money on bikes when it cannot even hold the vegetable pack or for that matter even their wife in the pillion seat that well. He was rather proud of his bajaj chetak 2-stroke smoke spewing machine and it had served him well for the last 17 years. As he wriggled past the traffic coming from the right side (well he was on the wrong lane) and swiftly crossed before the crossing gates closed, he slowed down on the turning and signaled with a shake of his head to the kid on the street. To a stranger the nod of the head was perhaps just an empty gesture but Raju the kid was the code breaker! He knew Kantibhai wanted the masala tea real quick delivered on the first floor office of Om Shanti Stock Brokers. Raju also understood that Kantibhai was going for a big kill; bottom fishing since the market fell real hard yesterday. Raju was barely eight when he came from Dungarpur (Rajasthan) to help his uncle at the road side tea shop at Maninagar.  Now  the road side stall, the commercial complex in front and the shop shack besides the temple were his  foster home. The masala tea that his uncle made was the fuel of most office goers in the area and it was a local institution that not only provided tea but also information on real estate, family problems of residents and mobile number of the bootlegger.

Raju with all the tea cups in his hands moved swiftly from the tailor shop below the stair to the picture framer besides it to the Raymond shop in the semi basement to the lady selling the toys on the pavement. He resembled a  bee moving from one flower to another in a garden and he quickly climbed the awkward spiral stair to the first floor stock broking office. This was always the place he enjoyed most and it was always teeming with boisterous characters that were perpetually excited; laughing aloud, shouting to be heard, making fun of the other and generally having a good times. These were the stock traders whose baithak (regular sit-out) was the Om Shanti broking office. The office itself was nothing but a room, with a swanky air conditioner and four terminals (simple computers that are connected to BSE) where people took turns to sit and execute their order. But the space of the office spread way beyond this room. They sat in the corridor in front, at the travel agent shop besides, below the hoarding for a commanding view of the traffic snarls in front. The place oozed with people like Kanti bhai’s, and resonated with animated interaction about the stock market, discussions about son’s marriage or rising price of petrol.

The place has in the recent years, come to be associated with share trade and had given rise to a whole eco-sytem that supported it; The stock broking office -Pan Shop- Tea Stall-Bhajia Center- ATM- Photo copiers- Stationary Shop and the Newspaper stall. Raju the tea boy knew much  about “circuits” and “stop loss” these days as much he understood the right ingredients of the tea

All of a sudden in the last few years since terminals (internet accessible computers used for transactions) have become common, trade can practically occur anywhere in the city. This phenomenon has also led to creation of the decentralized stock brokers/ investors community as they do not need to be at the main stock exchange building anymore. Due to presence of small and medium sized stock broking firms in the city, the stock market space is now a decentralized neighborhood units.

These are not only spaces for carrying out transaction but have become “places” for trader community to meet and connect. The place itself is small and allows the local neighborhood stock traders or investors to meet. This decentralized community public place characteristics of the space is an interesting development which have been made possible due to the internet based on-line trading activities in market places. Moreover this new program of online stock broking has integrated well with the various processes of the Indian bazaar like informal food, roadside vendors, service sector and active retail. This is also the sign of the strength and vitality of our contemporary markets that have evolved over the years and are the mainstay of the Indian retail.

The association of Information Technology with the Malls and the super blocks of the Call center is only one side of the story. The malls and IT complexes by turning inwards and showing off only a pretty facade have failed to offer anything to the city and do not seem to hold any promise of “public” good to its citizens or user. I will hopefully write more about this in my next posts.

It is actually these little markets where person like Kanti bhai’s rush every morning and the little Raju’s run around serving cutting chai, that small stock broking office, ATM’s and Travel agents (all program that use IT for work) are slowly transforming and complimenting the very nature of the public places in India.

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Prasad Krishna

Prasad Krishna previously worked in a newspaper and some reputed publications. He is MA in English, PGD in Journalism and LLB from the University of Delhi.