It's a long drive from our office to the 'ethnic Dilli' that our
photographer was so keen on absorbing through her lens. I had warned her that
much of the ethnicity had been plasticised. She was adamant. And so we drove
off to the oldest street in the capital... Chandini Chowk.
As the name suggests, it's the street of glitter and glitz. And Diwali is just another excuse for the pavement shopkeepers to spill over to the main roads luring Old Delhi residents to open their purse strings.
"Oh! Where's the ethnic stuff. I want the real colours," cried our
lenswoman. I gave a helpless shrug and escorted her further down the Chowk --
choc-a-bloc with plastic flowers, fruits and terrycot electric and
fluorescent coloured clothes. Ethnicity obviously had no place nor takers
Crowds pulled and tugged at the goodies, striking
bargains for their wives and kids. Very few women would venture down the
famous Chowk during Diwali as men of all shapes and hues find it the
opportune time for other tugging and pulling.
As we turned back, a bit disappointed, an antique piece caught our attention
-- a camera that one often saw in the black and white movies. My companion was obviously excited.
"Hey look! They still use cameras like these." It was
intriguing to find out how the contraption worked. The model was first seated in
front of the camera, while an accomplice would hold a black cloth behind him,
to give a background. The cameraman would expose the film for about a
second. Some chemical combination was used to bring out a negative on the
bromide. This negative was once again clicked to get a positive, which was
in turn washed chemically and then in water.
We parted with some 15 minutes
of our time and Rs 20 of our budget to get four passport size photograph! At
least the experience was worth the trip, I thought.
Frustrated, we rode off further in search of ethnicity. Next stop was the
Meena Bazaar inside the Red Fort. To be honest, I had pinned a lot of hope
on these shop keepers here. All of it fell flat on my face. Diwali?
Festivity? Well, not in Meena Bazaar, buddy!
The next stop would be the Lajpat Nagar market in South Delhi -- it was a
unanimous decision. On the way we stopped at the Hanuman Mandir to take a
look at the mehndi maidens. At least there are some traditions left intact! The rows of women artists were busy putting their work of art on palms, feet and elbows of women, who were either decking up for the festival or for the
ongoing wedding season.
Everything looked routine, until I saw a young woman
in the corner, her cellphone thrown casually around, while her bare foot had
pushed her silver-heeled footwear under the chair. "You are not a regular
here, are you?" I asked, barely controlling my surprise. "Oh no," she said,
in convent English, "I am Honey, and come here for fun. Actually, I am
learning the art of mehndi. It's a hobby and no better to place to learn
than the famed Hanuman Mandir!"
Honey kept our minds occupied for the rest of the journey. Lajpat Nagar was
much more happening -- silver and gold glitter strewn all over, diyas
(plastic and mud), clothes (Delhi is so fond of clothing), decked-up women
(after all, Diwali shopping is a social occasion), sale and discount offers,
freebies and of course cracker counters.
Strangely, though the cracker
counters were rather deserted, but for a few women trying out their hand at
the chakras and phooljhadis. What with anti-cracker campaigns and
skyrocketing prices, Delhi Diwali could well end up sans the usual dhamaka!