August 29, 2010

Missing Numbers

When I travel, I have a habit of photographing numbers—telephone numbers, license plate numbers, street address numbers, identification numbers, room numbers, and so on. I then use the photos as illustrations for the daily entries in the MAA NumberADay blog.

I am always struck by how many numbers we live by. You can find them just about anywhere, signifying or representing one thing or another.

A license plate on a vehicle in Jaipur.

In the Indian cities of Hyderabad, Agra, and now Jaipur, I do see some numbers—the license plates and identifying numbers on the innumerable vehicles, a scattering of telephone numbers on billboards, the tolls on some highways. Numbers representing street addresses, however, are nearly completely absent.

A telephone number recorded on a billboard in Hyderabad.

Large, garish signs, crowded together along storefronts, blare their news of goods for sale, with nary a numerical address. Even telephone numbers rarely appear as a part of these identifiers.

Storefront signs in the Charminar neighborhood of Hyderabad.

I find that I am so used to relying on numerical addresses to locate and orient myself—to navigate from place to place—that their absence adds to the sense of traveling in another world here in India.

A street scene in Hyderabad.

Nonetheless, I found one notable exception in Jaipur—the first planned city in India. Founded in 1727 by Maharajah Sawai Jai Singh II, the original city was laid out at right angles in square blocks, with wide, straight streets. Shop fronts were numbered consecutively, and signs had a standardized appearance, largely preserved to this day.

Consecutively numbered shops and standardized signs in old Jaipur.

Photos by I. Peterson

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