The City of Joy is decking up for its biggest annual carnival â€” Durga Puja. And, so are its people. The festive fervour is on and shops are packed with people, in a hurry to finish their â€˜pujor kena-kataâ€™ (puja shopping for five days of festivities).
Chaitali is worried to death â€” she hasnâ€™t started shopping for her sarees yet. A young executive at an MNC, she spends 360 days of the year wearing formals, office casuals, or indo-western outfits. Rarely does she wear a saree, barring the Puja days.
But with the sweltering heat in the city, sheâ€™s toying with the idea of shopping at the snazzy mall nearby. At least, she can shop around in comfort of the air conditioner. Right? Well, Chaitaliâ€™s husband, Arka, is dead against the idea. He thinks, if it’s Puja shopping, it has got to be Gariahat or New Market. No malls in the city can match up to the wide range and prices of clothes they would find at these places. And, what’s puja shopping without jostling through the crowds and snacking on street food? It’s kind of a prelude to the days of pandal hopping and street food hogging thatâ€™s coming up!
Arka is not alone in nurturing these sentiments. Come Durga Puja, and Kolkataâ€™s traditional shopping hotspots like Gariahat, New Market, Hati Bagan, College Street etc. become the nerve centres for Puja shopping customers coming from all parts of the city and suburbs. Strangely, even people who normally shop designer wears from shopping malls like Forum and South City head to these places. For some reason, the idea of buying a Dhakai saree or a dhuti-panjabi from a mall seems absurd. Why exactly? Letâ€™s delve deeper.
Spending Power has Increased, but Nostalgia Still Tugs at the Heartstring
With a rise in high disposal income, lifestyle standards and accessibility and availability of luxury brands in the city, people are splurging more. Shopping inside an air-conditioned mall is more of a lifestyle choice than merely an option.
At the same time, people are spending more time at work. This has pushed forward the trend of online shopping. With a click of the mouse or a tap on your smartphone, you can buy virtually everything you want, right from your home or office. People no longer have to brave snarling traffic to reach their shopping destination only to be overwhelmed by long, serpentine trial room queues.
But when it comes to Puja shopping, all these conveniences are strangely forgotten. People give in to the allure of the dusty and crowded marketplaces dotted with shops and vendors selling everything from clothes to accessories and more. But these marketplaces are also home to several reputed stores that have been in business for decades. One of the key reasons why people trust these stores more than the new-age malls and online shops is that they are steeped in local culture. These shops source from local weavers and craftsmen who have been creating traditional sarees, kurtas, dhotis etc. for many generations. Plus, they understand the local taste and the traditional choices that make the essence of Puja shopping so much more authentic.
Nostalgia is yet another factor that draws people to these standalone stores and traditional shops. Many of us went to these shops as kids, holding the hands of our parents. We grew up watching our mothers touch and feel each saree, meticulously choosing from heaps and heaps of dhanekhali, jamdaani, silk…and what not. While they spent hours selecting and rejecting, the shopkeepers patiently folded and unfolded stacks of sarees with a smile. This warmth and hospitality is what youâ€™ll never find in shopping malls.
And perhaps, for these reasons the charm of traditional standalone stores will continue to remain, even in this age of e-commerce and mall culture.