Nehru Place

On Sundays, Nehru Place is closed, with the shops shuttered and the plaza empty except for what appears to be two groups of beggars involved in a turf battle. While you see a few women slapping each other at the periphery of the plaza, your attention is drawn to the center, where two stick-thin men in rags writhe and flail and pin each other to the ground, oblivious to the police officer in his khaki uniform who, with the patience and deliberation of a man who has beat beggars a hundred times before and will beat them a hundred times after, pulls a nice long stick off a nearby tree and saunters up to the two men and whacks them and whacks them and you decide that maybe it’s better if you come back to Nehru Place some other day.

On every other day, Nehru Place is Delhi’s main computer market.

From the flyover, Nehru Place is a collection of concrete eighties skyscrapers clustered around a few central plazas. In the buildings themselves, a number of very legitimate businesses (including Microsoft) have very nice offices where they conduct very legitimate business. But on the ground level is India’s IT boom in action: an explosion of brand names, a cacophony of vendors, waves of young men in fashionable shirts, and ancient diesel generators that roar to life every time the power goes down.

The Indian retail economy is structured around clusters, with the best bargains and widest variety to be found in hubs where everyone is selling the same thing. There’s a spice market, an auto parts market, and a wedding invitation market, all of which house vendors resigned to papadum-thin margins in a competitive environment defined by shoppers who know that if one guy doesn’t offer his absolute lowest price, the guy in the next stall selling the exact same thing will.

Nehru Place is Delhi’s retail cluster for computers. Laptop repair specialists next to laptop repair specialists, hardware shops next to hardware shops, and printer cartridge vendors as far as the eye can see.

Everything at Nehru Place seems slightly illegitimate, probably because of the brazenness with which definitively illegitimate business is conducted. The grinning guy in the yellow shirt waves a printed catalog of pirated software at me, promising Microsoft products for the price of a Big Mac. I find him indistinguishable from the other vendors, which makes me suspect everything: are the boxes of printer paper from the back of some truck? Are the ten-dollar computer speakers built using five-dollar parts? Are the HP ink cartridges filled with genuine HP ink, or indeed any ink at all?

All levels of retail sophistication have a presence at Nehru Place, from mom-and-pop-run closets stuffed with 1990’s VGA monitors to gleaming showrooms featuring shiny new brands. I got my Apple power adapter repaired in a shadowy twelve-by-twelve explosion of wires and motherboards and empty cases; the guy who actually did the work was perched in a wooden loft, surrounded by tools, his head mere inches from the ceiling. His effort set me back three dollars, and extended the life of my power adapter exactly one week before it failed for good.

You can’t imagine that this place once didn’t exist. The ancient old man screwdriving logic boards must have learned the trade from his father; the overstuffed cubicles must contain computers dating back to the Raj. Nehru Place is the new subsumed by the old: the greatest advances of humankind brought into a market that feels centuries unchanged. much more about Nehru Place in Delirious Delhi, just published by Arcade Publishing!

52 responses to “Nehru Place

  1. Pingback: Nehru Place, Delhi’s amazing computer market | MashTopic

  2. You should probably check out S.J.P road when you are in Bangalore.

  3. For what its worth, Delhi is my favorite city, but maybe I’m biased because I grew up there.
    Don’t know if you’re familiar with Wililam Dalrymple, but you should pick up City of Djinns and The Last Mughal (Two great books on New Delhi) at one of the thousands of book stores while you’re there.
    And those pink shirted dudes you see all over the place holding hands? Just friends. Much like Iran, there are no gays in New Delhi. Gotta go to Bombay for that.

  4. Thanks for that lovely post. I recently discovered your site through a post on Boing Boing and have since been devouring all your posts eagerly. I’ve been meaning to drop you a note to tell you how much I’ve enjoyed reading about your Delhi struggle. I grew up in Delhi (Saket – D-block) but have lived in the United States (Philadelphia) for many years now. A part of me misses India very very much even though the India of today is nothing like the India I grew up in and the “me” of today has lived in the West for so long that I often wonder how I would do if I moved back. Your blog comes as close as possible to helping me imagine that. Thank you for providing such a wonderful, nuanced and balanced view of the country of my birth, and thank you for being willing to see the beauty of it, even through all the madness and the chaos. :-)

    @anang: I discovered William Dalrymple the last time I was home – my father was reading The Last Mughal and I borrowed it – it was a great read. I will have to check out City of Djinns. Thanks for the recommendation.

  5. Most major non-US cities have some district/street like this! From Sao Paulo, Brazil, to Argentina, to elsewhere!

  6. In the US, we have a Computer Show or Computer Fair, where you can buy all sorts of computer crap cheap. Software, hardware.

  7. Great Pics !

  8. Pingback: Computer shopping at Nehru Place | DesiPundit

  9. Pingback: Matt Castille » Blog Archive » Nehru Place « Our Delhi Struggle

  10. I loved this article and I love your blog.

    Hot tip though: NEVER get your Apple products serviced by ANYONE else but RSG Infotech, a.k.a. Apple India. Seriously. Even in Nehru Place most people haven’t heard of Apple or Macintosh apart from the iPod. I used to own a PowerBook before the stress of Indian living killed it :(

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  12. I completely agree with Harish’s comment which says “check out SJP Road in Bangalore”. It pretty much mirrors Delhi’s Nehru Place in almost every way including the cows, and the nonchalant cops, and everything else.


  13. Just a quick note from a fan of your blog. I’ve never been in India, but my company is sending me there later this year.

    I’m learning a lot from your posts.

  14. The city of Djinns wasn’t very well written in my opinion, but a much better book I read was: Maximum City (a book about modern mumbai/bombay, written by an NRI living in New York City).

    Does anyone have any other good recommendations on modern India?

  15. jenny and dave

    (Jenny here)

    I have read City of Djinns and found it very interesting, but sometimes tough to get through. Dalrymple’s writing improves with White Mughals.

    Maximum City is awesome. I had read that way before moving to India.

    Just finished a fascinating book, “Smoke and Mirrors: An Experience of China.” Yes, it is mostly about China, but Aiyar is from Delhi and compares the changes in China to what is happening in India.

  16. Same with Lamington Road in Bombay.

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  18. I read your beautiful caricature about the delhi scenario and the problems faced by people specially newcomers. Just try this site to ease your struggle so that you are not lost in delhi and can reach the place by knowing the exact path for it.

  19. Nice to see a market from a foreigner’s eyes. Normal sights for us, but your take is different. Some of those pictures are excellent!

  20. Excellent post. Considering that I grew up across up across the signal in Kalkaji, this post makes me extremely nostalgic. Reminds me of my plate of chole bhature at Sona Sweets in the late eighties – I am not sure if the shop is still there.
    The cows were there even then!

    • yes! It is!

      Now its called sona sweets and sri udipi..

      but thr is a sona sweets – m not sure if its the eighties one tho..

  21. Do you guys ever think about the China-made crap that you pick up at your Walmarts? In India everything goes on at the same time – that’s the charm of this country. Besides, according to Indian and Oriental philosophy this material world is a movie anyway, so it hardly matters what you do here as long as you remember that one’s actual quest is to find out that one is a part of the Zero-point energy field or ‘Shunya’ in Sanskrit. You Pink people (White is a misnomer) better get your act together and realize the purpose of life on planet Gaia soon instead of behaving like apes who like their reflection in the mirror and delude themselves into thinking that they are “White Gods.” Sorry guys, the truth, as they say is almost always quite acrid.

  22. Nice post. Just got back from India and it was a great experience.

  23. Hey Dave,

    Glad to see you’re having fun. Someday all that old junk will be highly collectible. Come to think of it, it already is. Me, I just collect typewriters. And dust.

    Btw, I’m gone from Wunderman and in the world of freelance copywriters, so you can stay in touch via the email submitted with this post.

  24. Its the way each part the world works, be a part of it and enjoy. If you think you want the computers to be only on the modern shops then you have places for that too in India, the only difference you have to pay the US dollar value up there.

    When I first moved to USA, I laughed at the car technician when he told me to change the entire indicator system on one side for a blinker not working?

    If its india, its a different story.

  25. Semilla:

    You are hilarious! LOL…I can’t stop laughing at your statement.

    Jenny & Dave:

    Thanks – I’ll check out white mughals.

  26. good post! its how human, technology and animals co-exist…
    Rajesh reminded me of spicy food that is impossible to get in US.

  27. jenny and dave

    Rajesh Kumar – You’ll be happy to know Sona Sweets is indeed still there.

  28. Quirky Indian

    Enjoyed the post. I have always been plagued by the same doubts about Nehru Place – is anything authentic?

    Great pictures, by the way.

    Quirky Indian

  29. It is quite a shock to see a bazaar of computer gizmos being sold like fruits and vegetables. Brands are as good as their prices. As most of them will tell you, IBM or Mac, all made in Taiwan.

    Lamington Road in Mumbai is the same. I bought stuff for my laptop – its cheaper than making a tech support call to IBM. And with original guarantees. Frankly, one does not need to question low prices or cheapness in computers. All parts of all brands are made in NOIDA, Taiwan and Korea. One just needs to check for compatibility and one is done.

    The best thing about places like Lamington Road or Nehru Place or SJ Park is that nobody really bothers about you. No questions, it is simple straightforward business.

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  33. It is big market in Asia. everything is available here, whether is new or old, branded or assembled.

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  35. How do you get to nehru place from Delhi Railway station?

  36. wher can i Duct Tape of industrial strength in delhi.
    any plz help me out.

  37. Great post really, and something on what’s becoming a critical part of our economy … perhaps we could email as I too have been writing about this type of stuff.. in the China connection!

  38. Pingback: how to enjoy Delhi during the Commonwealth Games (despite what the media says) | Our Delhi Struggle

  39. Ingrid Falkenberg

    Hi! Love the article and pictures. You have a good pen! First time I went to Nehru Place, I hugged my computer a little closer, and debated with myself if I should come back another day with my husband. I was the only woman there, and almost the only westerner. Everyone (all 3000 people) was eyeing me out. I was really suspicious, and checked prices several places, only to find out that the place I chose, sent a man running – with my computer – and I was fast to follow – to the more expensive place I had visited minutes before… I thought I was really going to be set up, but it went well. Ingrid

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  41. If you hate India then don’t come here. If you love you are welcome. If you want to understand India, go to Nehru Place. Please remember the 12 year old boy selling pirated software knows more about computer architecture and configuration than you. But he never went to school. Love it.Hate it , its India and that’s the way it is. Even US president can’t ignore India .It will screw his country.

  42. Hey! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I truly enjoy reading your articles.
    Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that
    cover the same subjects? Thank you!

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