The clearing up of Pondy Bazaar’s pavements evokes mixed feelings. Some, who have felt intimidated by the crush and jostle of what many believe is the ultimate shopping experience, are relieved – not that that’s any guarantee they will ever shop there. Others, who thrive on the frenzy-driven activity of looking and comparing and picking and choosing, feel the city has lost an identity marker. While I wonder how the hawkers will deal with their new home which, according to newspaper accounts, they appear to have taken to quite amiably, I also feel less claustrophobic.

Pondy Bazaar was always a shopper’s haven, even back in my schooldays. At the drop of a hat my tiny grandmother would hang an LG perungayam bag on her arm and take off, usually in the middle of the afternoon, and return triumphantly laden with knicks and knacks mostly of the provisions kind, on a cycle ricksha. We kids would be given an occasional treat by an older sibling or kindly aunt: sometimes a movie at Rajkumari theatre, sometimes saathukudi juice at the corner Andhra Killi shop. Another favourite was the photo studio that sold 120 ASA Indu film to experiment with on my dad’s box camera.

Yes, Pondy holds many memories.

A friend who had moved to the US after marriage visited after several years of being away. It was a nostalgia trip of sorts as we strolled through Pondy Bazaar, reliving the years of going up and down this busy street that had gone busier through our college years and now was bursting at the seams. It was summer, and we were licking at orange stick-ices.

When she was done, she said, “Appa! I can do this only here!” and she dropped the wrapper right there on the pavement outside Salam Stores. I was outraged. But she wouldn’t listen to my protestations. “No way I can do this in America, man,” she said. “This is freedom!”

This is freedom?!