I noticed a flurry of activity as the festival of Deepavali approached, with women going on shopping sprees in instalments. The first round I guess was more for window shopping followed by comparison of notes among women regarding the range and prices offered by various shops. Then the actual shopping began with women thronging shops mostly situated in T Nagar, braving a stampede, and coming out, or rather pushed out, looking all dishevelled and confused, tightly clutching large packets close to their chest. A visit to the numerous sweetmeat shops, I found, was normally reserved for the festival eve.
Not one so adventurous as to survive a stampede, I chose a nondescript shop to buy a saree for Deepavali. I was out within minutes having purchased a beautiful salmon pink saree (I didn’t care what the fabric was since the shade was too alluring and the price was reasonable). Next I headed to one of the reputed sweetmeat shops and the long queues there alarmed me. I knew I had to spend a minimum of half-an-hour if my turn had to come. I proceeded to try out another one and found the scene was no better. My experience at the third shop was worse because the door was slightly opened for people to exit and prevent any customers to enter.
Back home I thought it was best to prepare whatever sweets I could and managed to produce some shapeless, formless pure ghee sweets. I reasoned to myself that a sweet is a sweet and giving it a name was not important.
Aye, what a pretty saree you are wearing? Where did you pick it up from, asked my niece who came along with a few of her friends on Deepavali morning. Before I could answer, she reeled out two or three names of leading shops. Soon they were making a guess at the price, it could be not less than Rs 3,000, said one. No, it could be even more, said another. Meanwhile, a few friends trooped in to greet us with sweet packets. They too complimented me on the rich look my saree had and concluded it must have cost a fortune considering the texture.
I offered the homemade sweets a little apologetically, confessing my inability at the art of making delicacies.
Once they all left, I read the name of the shop the carton of sweets bore. All the packets seemed to have been purchased from the same shop, a very reputed one, I noticed. I dug into one of the assorted sweets, and winced. It dawned on me that even reputed shops sell “second quality” of assorted sweets at a “special” price meant to be given as “gifts”.
Do they care about the consequences of consuming these, I wondered. The sweets I prepared may not have looked attractive, but at least they were harmless, I prided myself at the thought.
N Meera Raghavendra Rao