The Indian market for sleep

by on January 19, 2016 at 12:50 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

Does any city have a more stratified sleep economy than wintertime Delhi? The filmmaker Shaunak Sen, who spent two years researching the city’s sleep vendors for a documentary, “Cities of Sleep,” discovered a sprawling gray market that has taken shape around the city’s vast unmet need for shelter. In some places, it breeds what he calls a “sleep mafia, who controls who sleeps where, for how long, and what quality of sleep.”

…Like many of this city’s businesses, sleep vendors are both highly organized and officially nonexistent. In Mr. Khan’s neighborhood, four quilt vendors have divided the sidewalks and public spaces into quadrants, and when night falls, their customers arrange themselves into colonies of lumpy forms. Some have returned to the same spot every night for years.

…Mr. Khan, who has been here for eight years, says he extends credit for regular customers to a limit of 100, or occasionally 200, rupees. (Several shivering men, who had spent the night around a smoldering fire nearby, snorted in disbelief upon hearing this.) He considers boundaries between vendors so sacred that he will not step across them. He makes regular payments to the police and street sweepers so they do not disturb his sleepers, and he maintains close relations with the local pickpockets so that he can tell them whom not to rob.

I wish I knew more about the market structure, coercive control, and ease of entry and the like.  Nonetheless an interesting story from Ellen Barry at the NYT.

1 Chip January 19, 2016 at 1:03 am

I have a vivid memory of my first business trip to Mumbai and the short morning walk from the Oberoi to our office. Men were sleeping in evenly spaced lines across the sidewalk and as I made my way around them a muttering guru with wild hair and even wilder eyes briefly gripped my arm and left a deep black handprint on my white shirt for the rest of the day.

2 Jan January 19, 2016 at 6:09 am

Had a similar experience in the late 2000s. I’d arrived at night, so had not seen much of anything on the nearby streets, but upon walking around my hotel early the next morning I nearly stepped on a person before I looked around and realized there were probably over 100 people sleeping on the ground in my immediate vicinity. The guru would have have freaked me out though.

3 prior_test January 19, 2016 at 1:43 am

‘I wish I knew more about the market structure, coercive control, and ease of entry and the like.’

Undoubtedly. Free markets need to be able to extract maximum value from all human activities, that just being part of those small steps to a much better world.

4 Thelonious_Nick January 19, 2016 at 10:53 am

So, P_T, do you believe the problem with homelessness in Delhi is at root an excess of free markets?

5 Affe January 19, 2016 at 11:40 am

PT evidently believes either (i) sleeping uncovered on pavement is superior, or (ii) that this blog should be re-titled Magical Revolution, as cots and blankets miraculously appear daily on the streets of Delhi, only to be snatched up and hoarded by Big Sleep.

6 Stephan January 19, 2016 at 11:43 am

The free market is not a problem, but the lawlessness is. The homeless people can’t hang on to their assets. They could buy a blanket but it would be stolen, pickpockets target them etc..

7 Anoop January 19, 2016 at 3:46 am

I can tell of similar structures in the train seat market.

Every long distance train in India has a couple of wagons for unreserved ticket travelers. Ergo its no holds barred in these wagons and typically mayhem ensues. Far away from the bigger stations and railway police, teams of thugs muscle their way in and grab the few precious seats available, and sell them off to the highest bidders.

8 jim jones January 19, 2016 at 6:42 am

The police collect more than 3,000 bodies a year from the streets – incredible.

9 Gochujang January 19, 2016 at 8:19 am

Like something out of Terry Pratchett.

I guess there are advantages to cold northern climes that are not blessed by monsoons and tremendous rice harvests.

10 chuck martel January 19, 2016 at 4:15 pm

In bygone days in the North, unemployed lumber jacks spent the night in flophouses, sometimes buying a spot to lean, rather than a bed. Rural saloons in the timber country had “snake shacks’, buildings with a stove separated by a page wire fence from some wooden benches where drunks were allowed to sleep after the bar closed. This benevolence prevented at least some of the customers from freezing to death.

11 Tom T. January 19, 2016 at 10:04 am

This seems to say as much about the market for housing as anything else.

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