The neon sign hovering over an Apollo pharmacy flashes a welcome to the hundreds that tread the heady labyrinth that is Ritchie Street, every day. As autorickshaws wriggle past, I struggle to regain my balance, only to be pressed up against a wall, to let a shrieking two-wheeler go by.
Ritchie Street, home to Chennai’s biggest electronics market, offers the latest gadgets, in black or white. Or, if you are really insistent, in green, pink and blue, as well. But it is not going to be easy if one expects a pleasurable experience: get ready to be bumped into, jostled by and looked over as you take on the mission of searching for that perfect Sony headset.
Nestled carelessly between India Silk House and a bunch of shops on Anna Salai, with the new secretariat building being its glamourous neighbour, Ritchie Street throws its narrow doors wide open to anybody looking for electronics. While a pushcart vendor tries to sell steaming peanuts out of dirty newspaper cups, my eyes are instantly drawn to the whimsical scene of a man blowing bubbles from a plastic parrot bubble-blower.
As a first-time visitor, I clutched my bag with unwarranted caution, but as I let the human mass sweep me into its messy midst, the fog cleared, and Ritchie Street’s reputation made some sense to me. On my left, I could see DVD players decked like books in a store, while to my right, from the latest LCD screen, Rajinikanth threatened to draw me into a bloody fight in Shivaji.
Intermittent instructions through loudspeakers attached to a police booth tangled with strains of music from a shop named ‘Softronics’ fought for my aural attention. Amid this cacophony, I was assailed by small boys with colourful flyers offering the best diagnosis for any electronic ailment I may have. I skimmed one of them and decided to enter what promised to be a ‘mecca for gadget worshippers’.
Mohammed Osama, young, stylish owner of Suntek Electronics answered my queries about a voice recorder patiently while multi-tasking on his iPhone. Man and machine fought for space in the narrow box of a shop and as I stepped out for fresh air, I saw a cluster of college kids standing by a man selling ‘electronic massagers’, which looked eerily like dwarfed teletubbies.
Shreya, a journalism student, clad in skinny jeans, stood out, but was undeniably at home. She said, “I come here often. What I get from here is cheaper and there is greater variety too.” Solanki said she bought a laptop recently from one of the shops here, but Siddhant had a word of caution for me.
He said, “Lots of gadgets from China are sold illegally here. So, you have to be careful.” His father being the owner of Shruti Electronics on the street, he should know. They all advised me, though, that I should purchase all my gadgets here. in the future.
As I walked out of Ritchie Street, soaked in sweat and late for work, I made up my mind to visit again soon, and buy something the next time around. For who am I to question the wisdom of the young gadget freaks I had just met?