Exploring the soul of city’s festival souks

As I walked down a deserted Commercial Street after the Ramzan after-party, that loss of spirit was palpable. No buzz in the bazaar.

Published: 11th June 2019 06:10 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th June 2019 06:10 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

BENGALURU: There are some days of the year when Bengaluru’s shopping district loses its soul – the days after a festival, or on a bandh. It suffers from the morning-after syndrome, a post-climax when trade loses its lustre, and it is business downtime. This is usually the scene post-Ramzan and Diwali, luckily, Christmas only marks the beginning of the year-end magic, when the frenzy never really ends. 

As I walked down a deserted Commercial Street after the Ramzan after-party, that loss of spirit was palpable. No buzz in the bazaar. Fundown. Unbelievable, for I had seen that shopping hysteria first-hand: When vendors, shoppers, mehendiwalis (and walas), trinket sellers, vehicles, beggars had converged on to the narrow streets, purposeful and on the go. There was a mass of humanity on every precious square feet of real estate,  mornings, afternoons and nights. It can overwhelm the uninitiated.

Yet, there is a magical couple of weeks every Ramzan, when spirituality is nudged to the background and the focus shifts to giving of alms and the more worldly pleasure of shopping. The diurnal and nocturnal merge, the circadian clock ticks to a different rhythm, and merchants keep in tune with this new cycle. Glittering store windows beckon with ‘Ramadan Kareem’ posters  –  a new import from the Arabic world.

Stores and food joints are open all night, shutting only around dawn, to again up their shutters at noon for the morning shoppers. And there are many of those – I have always envied that army of women who can brave the heat and traffic, togged up in burkhas, weighed down by shopping bags and a couple of kids in tow. But all these seemingly debilitating factors fail to dent their deft bargaining skills. You have to hand it to them.

Then there is an army which comes out of the woodwork at night, housework done, kids asleep at home, indulgent husband in tow. They shop as the stores glitter with bling and lights, through the night, forever young. It is also peak-hour for tailors, who clatter well into the nights through the last week, at times completing orders at 5am on the day of Eid.

For those on the periphery of all this action, the question remains: What is this copious shopping all about, why such fuss and bother? Check out their laundry lists and you will find everything and anything: Crockery, gold, furnishings, linen, kitchen stuff, shoes, clothes, clothes and more clothes… for the poor, for family, and themselves. For many, Ramzan marks a new beginning, and homes sparkle anew. Couture takes top priority, and fashion is divided into pre-Ramzan and Ramzan designs.

And to cater to these foraging folk is a smorgasbord of fodder — hot, cold, spicy, sweet.... I do believe that the mountains of samosas, cauldrons of haleem and gallons of sherbet and tea demolished during those 28 days of Ramzan make for an interesting study in the economics of onions, oil, meat, milk and spices. Besides the crores of rupees that change hands in this market.

And when the last roza is done, the merchants and tailors take a (well-deserved) break. The soul of the souk? Well, that takes a small vacay too.

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