By Bipasha Nath:
Being a college student has many perks. Making each day a little different from the previous one becomes a crucial part of college life. Seminars, plays, events and exploring new places around the city – and even outside of it – with friends, and friends of friends – such things go into making college life an experience unlike any other. Food and fashion become an integral part of this exploration – and talking of those, one cannot leave out Majnu ka Tilla (MKT).
Majnu ka Tilla is known as the ‘mini-Tibet’ of Delhi. This refugee colony is situated minutes away from North Campus. A quick auto ride from your college or the nearest metro station – Vidhan Sabha – would take you there. After the Tibetan uprising in 1959, the locality became a focal point for many refugees, who have set up permanent homes there.
It has become popular amongst students in the recent past. They can easily find what they require within the market and the list often includes shawls, accessories, books, prayer flags, gift items and original Tibetan food products. The restaurants in the area promise a whole new experience altogether. The decor, service, general atmosphere and the people one gets to meet there is pleasing, to say the least.
If one talks to store owners in the market, several things can be known. One of them told me that Tibetans from all over the world, when in India, usually stop over at MKT, making it a meeting point for Tibetans. Handicrafts from Tibet are popular amongst the student community. Unlike clothing, they never go out of style, and are, in fact, much in demand. Many of the goods are shipped from Dharamshala, and the sales pattern varies seasonally. During summer in Delhi, it is much less as fewer Tibetans visit the place. As for students, many shops take special care and keep gift items for youngsters at a reasonable price.
Situated right at the heart of the market, Karma Tours and Travels holds a significant position in the tourism sector. Shedding light on travel patterns of young students, they mention how booking rates usually go up during weekends as college goers make a small trip out of an extended weekend holiday to nearby places.
One finds plenty of differences in the air-conditioned shopping rooms and tented shops. The small-scale shopkeepers live a very different life. While the goods remain as quirky and attractive as the ones found inside authorised spaces, businessmen outside face more challenges as people tend to prefer branded items these days. One of the shopkeepers explained to me that he handpicked clothes, shawls and other items specially to suit the shopping patterns of youngsters, as they form a large chunk of customer unit. He mentioned that most of the people engaged in sales there, remain very conscious about their appeal to students, especially since the rate of young adults coming to the market has increased tremendously over the years.
Two frequent shoppers – Kritika and Tanya, feel the difference in kind of crowd in Majnu ka Tilla is what sets it apart from other shopping spots in Delhi. Since it a refugee camp, they believe a ‘Tibetan feeling’ comes off more strongly here than in other places. Kritika has been frequenting the market for more than six years, from the time she was still a student at Delhi University – and she cannot stop praising MKT for what it offers to eager shoppers. On the other hand, her friend voices her surprise at spotting black algae in the menu of one of the restaurants in MKT, while also commending the market for its diversity and versatility.
In general, the atmosphere one finds in MKT is that of tranquillity. Unlike other shopping centres, it is a rare sight to find people haggling over rates or quality of product. The marketplace is bustling, yet peaceful, possibly springing out from the harmony that already exists amongst the occupants.The proximity to Delhi University, the reasonable rates for different items, the bohemian twist that the atmosphere gets during evenings when people sit around, sing songs and play the guitar. Everything clearly adds to the charm that the market has. The colony has faced several challenges previously due to floods, but standing in the middle of the camp, one can only feel the hope, optimism, and determination that the people have shown time and again. It truly is a place that continues to grow, even as we speak.