To experience the kind of delirium that goes into the celebration of even regional festivals, you only had to stroll through the chaotically illuminated markets of Chandigarh on day-minus-four of Karva Chauth. The rush at the tailor’s was a barometer of the trend. The pretty young bride pleaded with Rashid Tailor Master to give her her dress in time. The tailor explained politely, “Didi, everyone observes Karva Chauth on the same day!”
The parking lot was a battleground, as expected. Our city centre, as we pompously label it, could have been renamed Seeti (whistle) Centre, in honour of the deafening screech of whistles blown by traffic cops and parking attendants. Stuck in the jam with the distinctive odour of jalebis wafting into the air from the halwai shop across the road, I took in deep breaths of festival excess.
In the nearby ‘cheap and best’ sector, there is less parking space so nobody even tries to insinuate their cars into the niches between the pajama-thread seller and the hairband-n-comb kiosk. Here, an itinerant chaatwala played orchestra conductor to a crowd of females screaming for their favoured papri chaat or golgappe. Familiar with the extent of customisation demanded by his choosy clientèle, the chaatwalla juggled chutneys, namkeens, chopped vegetables, currency notes and paper plates in fluid movements that could win Olympic medals if chaat-making were an Olympic sport. The long-suffering crowd of men that formed the second cordon around this intrepid food business operator could only murmur with a sigh, “They have to eat chaat today in preparation for the fast!”
On the eve of Karva Chauth, the pavements were host to many mehendi artists, each with five females in waiting and one customer’s hand in his, applying lovely designs on palms even as fathers, husbands and brothers minded babies and toddlers or guarded shopping bags from previous shopping forays. Even clad in very expensive-looking clothes, women did not mind sitting on pink plastic stools, hands outstretched as the henna artist worked his magic. Rs 200 per palm was the going rate, escalating to Rs 500 as the evening wore on.
I wondered where all these artists would disappear to once the festival was over. ‘Raju Mehendi Artist’, said his visiting card, with only a mobile phone number and some swirling designs on it. “We come from Rajasthan and we will go back to our small shops there, didi, where else to go.” Mehendi art helped them make a quick buck during festivals and weddings. The straightforward economy of Chandigarh could not have absorbed a hundred mehendiwallas in non-festival times.
On the actual day there was the usual breathless wait for the moon. Wives prayed for their husbands with customary fervour, as newspapers reported inanely the next day. Husbands lulled themselves into believing that all that dressing up, fasting and show-shaa was for love alone. Karva Chauth, followed by Diwali is today a vibrant combination of ritual, tradition, frolic and fun. Like festivals all over the world, these are now a shopkeeper’s delight, with the promise of Christmas and New Year soon to follow.