chapter  10
People’s Neighborhood Center: Handiya in Sri Lanka
ByWith Nirmani Liyanage
Pages 23

One morning, out of the blue appeared a jackfruit stall made of two boxes built from timber palettes (Figure 10.1). Located near the busiest place at Moratumulla Handiya (i.e., the pola), its middle-aged vendor was trying to sell three bags of jackfruit. Similar to a farmers’ market, pola is an informal (farmers’) market for vegetables; Moratumulla pola also has fish. The vendor was, in fact, launching a new business with some jackfruit he plucked from a neighbor’s tree (with permission) after losing his previous means of income. For him, handiya is a place of opportunity; that is where he opted to rebuild his livelihood. His stall grew into a family business within two years (Figure 10.1)

Handiya is an ordinary space formed around the intersection of streets in Sri Lanka. Most people’s lived spaces are defined by one or more handiyas. Most residential areas in Sri Lanka are organized around handiyas where people carry out many non-residential daily activities. Unregulated, and also regulated in some ways, handiya both supports and challenges-accommodates and rejects-individual efforts. It constitutes bloomed emergences developed through successful inside-out processes, negotiating external forces and influences. It is also a people’s laboratory to try out small-scale ventures. Such spaces are not limited to handiya or to Sri Lanka (Deden and Purbadi 2013; Janz 2013; Hamdi 2004). Informal settlements like Dharavi, Daanchi, and the middle-class environments in Gangtok are also largely produced by the inhabitants (Chapters 7-9). Yet there is very little understanding of such people’s spaces. As Perera and Tang (2013: 17) have highlighted:

In the professional world, people’s everyday language and spaces have not entered policies, plans, planning reports, and management discourses. In Sri Lanka, people define space in terms of handi, malu, and adavi, in India they use chowks; in Kathmandu space is organized around durbars, hitis, and chautaras, whereas longtangs are important in Shanghai. The activities and practices associated with these “publics” have hardly entered those urban perceptions employed in professional discourses whose explicit objective is [to serve the public]. In making simple translations of these words into their technical languages, [some] practitioners transform and, in most cases, marginalize the spaces and activities familiar to the user.