Mumbai’s traffic woes may confound drivers and office-goers, but they also highlight the ingenious business sense of Indians who view this as a unique marketing opportunity. If you find yourself stuck at almost any signal in the city you are likely to be greeted by a bevy of hawkers trying to sell their wares, from combs and dusters to Santa hats and flowers. The next time you are travelling through the city, you can expect to buy these things as you drive, or rather, crawl through the traffic of Mumbai.
From bestsellers by John Grisham and self-help gurus, to kids’ coloring and sketch books, there’s always someone selling paperbacks at busy crossroads and intersections. Hawkers often move between cars, flashing pirated copies of the latest books that cost less than half their actual price. Publishers may cry foul, but this is an honest living for many, who would otherwise be forced to beg. Besides, many Mumbaikars prefer to buy such cheap books, especially if originals are unaffordable or if it’s a title they deem not worth the market price. True to their generous spirit, many will also buy books simply to reward the effort of hawkers, many of whom are street kids. Yes, Mumbai’s inhabitants have a soft spot for hard work and enterprise.
If there’s one business enterprise that can never fail in this city, it’s selling food. With the number of eateries, fast food joints, and roadside eateries that are constantly mushrooming, one would think that Mumbaiites are a ravenous bunch. Hawkers have long been aware of this and they have long been cashing in on the opportunity to sell food to hungry motorists stuck in unending jams. Talk about comfort foods, and the term will make even more sense when you see travelers eagerly waiting for hawkers, selling roasted peanuts, to approach them at signals.
Everyone knows how much Mumbai’s population loves junk food like samosas and bhel, but they also love their fresh fruits. Mangoes are perhaps the most popular of all fruits and strawberries could come in at a close second. Not surprisingly, you will find plenty of vendors selling these delightful fruits as soon as the season arrives. If you find yourself stuck at a signal in the sweltering heat of summer, you can be sure to find plenty of sellers promising you the best Alphonso mangoes at unbeatable prices. The same holds true for strawberries in winter and if you can bargain, you will be sure to get a good deal.
For parents, the one thing worse than being stuck in a traffic jam, is being in that situation with impatient and irritable kids. Managing children can be quite tough, especially when you’re already at your wit’s end because of the infernal traffic. In such situations hawkers selling toys and goodies can be either a blessing or a curse, depending on how well you are to appease the demands of your children. If a small toy is worth the peace and quiet, you will be delighted to find that Mumbai’s hawkers sell everything possible from plastic cricket bats and balls to action figures and toy cars.
Flowers are always in demand throughout the year, and there’s a good chance that everyone has either bought or been gifted flowers at some point of time. Hawkers at signals wised up to this demand a long time ago and they have been a regular sight in traffic jams for decades. While roses are the most common flowers sold, you may also find other varieties like chrysanthemums, marigolds, jasmines, and lots more. This is probably one of the most useful products that you can buy while driving through Mumbai, especially if you are on your way to a date, as there’s a good chance you will be late.
Mumbai’s street-sellers are just as savvy to the latest trends and international celebrations, as are the big business and media houses of the city. If there is any festive occasion approaching that presents a merchandising opportunity, you can be sure to find hawkers selling themed items and embracing the flavor of the season. In February you can purchase heart-shaped balloons, in March water pistols and colors, in October diyas, fireworks and glowing horns, and in December Santa hats and reindeer horns. Nothing can be more useful than such a clear reminder of the cosmopolitan culture of the city and its many celebrations.
As smartphones have grown in popularity, so too have the problems of poor battery life, most often surfacing at inopportune times, such as when out traveling. Hawkers and street vendors may come from underprivileged sections of society who cannot afford the latest gadgets, but they certainly know how to keep pace with the digitization of India. You will easily find them selling mobile phone chargers and holders for cars, at most signals and crossroads. The next time you’re driving through Mumbai you can rest assured that if your smartphone battery runs out, help will be at hand.
Dusting cloths and dusters are always in demand with motorists, as vehicles in the city, like everything else, are always covered in layers of dust and grime. This is one of the most useful purchases you can make as vehicle-owner, driving through the streets of Mumbai. Dust and dirt is a perennial problem in the city, with construction activities exacerbating the problem, while muck and splashes are a bother in the monsoon months. Not surprisingly, hawkers have been selling these items to motorists in the city for decades.
Most of the city’s drivers are extremely patriotic and they like to express their sentiments by flaunting a small-sized paper or plastic flag. Ever resourceful, hawkers have been quick to meet the need and encourage the patriotic fervor by selling the tricolor at every second signal in the buildup to Independence and Republic Days. The next time either one of these national holidays is approaching you can buy this useful item, especially if you cannot find a better way to express your love for the motherland.
Everyone who lives on the island city complains about the unpredictability of the weather and how it inevitably rains on a day when they have no rain wear. Worry not, as Mumbai’s busy roads will be even more congested with water-logging and you will have ample opportunity to buy an umbrella while you are stuck in traffic. As naïve as many of these hawkers may seem, they are so business savvy that many of them even started selling thin transparent plastic covers for mobile phones some years ago.
This list should make it fairly obvious that there is scarcely anything you could need that you will not be able to buy, while driving through Mumbai. So, the next time you’re stuck in a jam, spare a thought for the indomitable spirit of these hard working vendors even if you choose not to make a purchase. If you haven’t found all you’re looking for, sign up for a trip to Mumbai’s historic markets. Cleartrip will take you through famous markets like Crawford Market, Mangaldas Market, Phool Gulli, and many more, giving you the shopping experience of a lifetime.