Trade Fairs are one of those things that seep into weekend conversations like children into kindergarten. You don’t reason with it. Just accept it nonchalantly like you would the radio in the gym or the biscuit with a cup of tea.
And so when Mom and Dad laid out a Sunday across the breakfast table and spread out the quilts to herald the winter, Pragati Maidan tick-tocked its way into our consciousness with the India International Trade Fair. We heard it’s on till the 28th of November and decided to begin with the Khadi Village Expo. Now I could focus on the output here and talk about the Tea Drops we bought for fifty bucks before the stall walah could finish reciting the list of ingredients. But I am going to be a customer and pamper myself with the moments that have left an indelible mark on my memory. A small plastic gun and soap solution. Bubbles. Isn’t it ironic? I saw a five year old blow them. And then when I wanted to reach out to the thin films of pink and blue, the shopkeeper sprang into action with a swagger and announced, “Idhar dekhiye.. mujh se seekhiye. Halke se gun ko saabun mein dooboiye.. aur phir dheere se dabaiye.”
Er... okay something wasn’t right here.
As a bunch of bubbles mushroomed all around me, I teetered on the brink of buying the stuff. A few bubbles burst around me and so did the illusion. Shreya Ghoshal was crooning somewhere. “Kaise Mujhe Tum Mil Gayee” from “Ghajini”. Apt. Very apt. A 25 year old smiling at and planning to buy what is hopefully a permanent inhabitant of her bathroom. Yes, the song was created with the dual purpose of haunting and healing. Rehman had done it again. Ghajini. Asin. Kerala. Seduction. Marketing. Gullible’s Travels. Have it any which way. The associations are too strong and too easy. And I wasn’t going to fall prey to them. So I compromised, took a few shots of our gun-toting hero and tried to capture the bubbles much against their desire. He posed. I clicked. Shook the fluff off my brains and moved on.
The Manipur emporium was a last minute decision. We had 15 minutes in which to experience “The Jewelled Land”. We crossed the reception. Two girls sat there looking like they just won a game of Dumb Charades. A huge golden dragon stood on a wall next to them and – I honestly don’t know why I cared so much but – I ended up asking them to explain what the Manipuri word written below it means. The girls looked shaken out of their slumber and in no hurry to dish out facts. They looked at each other, blinked a couple of times, uhhed, ummed, and offered, “I think it’s the name of the dragon”. I think what followed was the best fake thank you I have ever muttered. Key takeaway – and I quote J.K. Rowling here, “Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus”. (Never Tickle A Sleeping Dragon!)
The stall next to it – M/s Tokpam Leikai WCS Ltd. – bloomed bright and soft with sweaters, shawls and sarees in pastel shades, enhanced by the two unbelievably docile looking women sitting inside in their white sarees and mauve blouses, both with their eyes closed. I paused. Surely this is a passing phase? They are on stools. Soon they would sway forward and with a jerk snap out of their slumber. But no. We were talking sunset here. They reminded me of flowers closing in their petals and catching a wink before Photosynthesis resumes. I nearly yawned myself. And I mean that as a compliment. Thankfully someone whispered an “Excuse me?” with the tact of a bomb squad pro. I moved on.
There were dry flowers all around. M/s Viciwon Artistic Dry Flowers Unit for starters. Bursts of colour that mimed their scent and called out to you in a silent symphony. Flutes and crossbows for love and war. The legendary red and black striped dressing gowns. Bags. Purses. And cocoons by the dozen. Mulberry cocoons. Muga cocoons. Tasar cocoons. Cradle tales of soft, sensuous, liquid silk; secretive in their wizened and gnarled appearance. I thought I was done when I bought myself a pair of white, red, yellow, green beads strung together as danglers.
But there is that occasional sleeping pill that sucks you inside a marble and sweeps you off your feet like a gust of fantasy. You wake up to a good morning and the smell of rocking chairs and secret passageways that caved in long ago. Like an island in the middle of the stormy seas or the dampness inside a museum in the winter. Like a long walk around Delhi’s Khan Market on a long weekend or a picnic on a cloudy day with no umbrellas to shield you from the showers.
Zomi Star Artisans is a result of Lun Tonsing’s need for creative satisfaction and is inspired by Manipur’s tribal cultures. Lun asked me why I was taking the photographs and I told her about my blog. There were shawls, coats, bags, dresses, bracelets and mobile covers to call my attention. And yet, I could not look away from the petite pairs of shoes tucked away neatly inside the shelves. These were no ordinary slippers. These must be what Dorothy wore on her way to meet the Wizard of Oz! They were for feet that returned from the tuitions late one evening and sought comfort for the Friday night out. These were for feet that wanted to take small, measured steps through the fog and curled up as you read a book beneath a tree on the lawns near the India Gate. You wore them when you got into a car and got out again to sift through K Nags (Kamla Nagar, shoppers’ paradise near the University of Delhi, North Campus) in all its hues and aromas. Lun had a pair in salt and pepper with a dainty flap across the feet and a pair in red and black that made you want to crawl back into Mother’s lap and go to sleep with your head against her shoulder. You wore these shoes when you scurried along to the Indian Habitat Centre’s Film Club, just in time for the screening of a black and white classic. You wore them on days when someone compared your dimple to Preity Zinta’s and on days when you sympathised with Vidya Balan. You wore them on days you had skipped gym and tiptoed to the All American Diner like a silent rebel. You wore them because you loved yourself and you had a cold and Mom had heard you sniff. Now I could go on and on and so could the shoes. But they come in single sets and I couldn’t get ones in my size. I turned to the clothes rack and then a strange thing happened. The fifties’ black coat with the red, yellow and orange embroidery at the bottom yawned, stretched out its sleeves and put them around my neck, planted a soft and tender kiss on my soul and refused to budge. Lun helped me put it on and showed me how I could raise the collar for the perfect Humphrey Bogart look. She also took a photograph. Customers were gathering around. Someone said “Nice!”. Most of them just smiled. I eyed the price tag and looked at the coat like she was my Black Beauty. I could have taken my wedding vows with her, then and there. I did bring her home with me. And the only other black coat in the store is a slightly different creation. But don’t despair. Lun has lots of surprises in store for you. You could find yourself the perfect short jacket or a delightfully demure cotton purse with a gnarled knob of a clasp.