Jalandhar: Just outside Jalandhar is a new shopping complex: Walia Mart. The name, a play on the obvious, captures the spirit of the people here.The rest of India can wait for the retail giant’s entry. This city, sporting goods central for India, creates its own.
The weekend, after India was all but thrown out of the ICC Cricket World Cup, it was work at usual in Jalandhar. No outpouring of rage or angst, just near indifference.
It could very well be because residents—and businesses—indulge in sports other than the nation’s obsession.
Twenty-seven-year-old Gurwinder Singh, who operates a commercial telephone booth, says he didn’t watch the match. He’d rather watch an NBA basketball match on ESPN television channel than follow the Indian cricket team.
Over at the Kohli’s, who manufacture cricket and hockey equipment, or at the Mahajan’s, who make rugby gear for export, there are shipment deadlines to meet, the next big sporting event to supply to. So, work at their factories simply goes on, win or lose.
The sports goods neighbourhood here begins at a crossing named Football Chowk where a giant, concrete soccer ball sits atop a pillar. The area is a true sporting mecca, dozens of equipment shops crammed next to the workshops and small factories that work to make play possible. Giant posters of Indian cricketers look down upon the street from the buildings they are tacked upon. The state government built a special sports manufacturing complex in 1984, several kilometres away, for the manufacturers—but many have stayed put here.
It is strikiing how all rickshaw pullers and truck drivers seem to know Football Chowk and Basti Nau, the hub of sporting goods manufacturing. Ask them about the Sports and Surgical Complex, and a blank stare might greet you.
In fact, when the special area was set up 23 years ago, it was simply and more aptly called the Sports Complex. Because of terrorist activities in Punjab through the 1980s, many sporting goods companies shifted to Meerut, creating a smaller sports hub in Uttar Pradesh. Punjab saw few takers for its sports complex, so it invited medical equipment manufacturers to set up shop as well. Today, the new complex has a myriad different manufacturing units—including one that makes shop shutters.
Sports goods exporters warmly applauded as minister of state for industry Ashwani Kumar announced a ”center of excellence” in Jalandhar. But, just outside the event, they were ready to voice their doubts.Throughout his speech, Kumar had dwelt on the challenges facing the leather industry, quite forgetting he was primarily addressing a hall full of sports goods exporters, many of whom are also in sports apparel.
Said one incredulous exporter, ”The minister didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.” The exporter, who didn’t want to be identified, said Kumar’s seeming ignorance of their industry typified the government’s approach to the sports goods manufacturing sector, which has annual sales of Rs 500 crore. The sector’s pet peeve: sales would leapfrog if only the government recognised sports clothing, too, as a sports goods item, and not as garments. ”Do you think companies such as Nike and Reebok make money selling footwear?” the exporter asks.
Jalandhar’s Bus Adda area underscores Punjabis’ continuing hunger to go overseas, and often, settle abroad. Agents of all possible airlines are located here including some unexpected ones such as Uzbekistan Airlines, Turkmenistan Airlines, Air Slovakia and Syrian Airlines.Locals say remittances from those settled abroad have contributed to the growth of Jalandhar.
A quiet town even in the early 1990s, today it resembles many urban centers with ritzy hotels, resorts in the suburbs, and its share of McDonalds and Café Coffee Day. Developers have flooded the city with looming billboards of luxury residential complexes.