With its frenetic shoppers, sights and sounds, T. Nagar is something else on the eve of Deepavali. Akila Kannadasan captures the festive mood

Tiny paper fish crisscross a bowl of water placed for sale at a street corner in T. Nagar. There’s a scientific principle behind it but no one has the time to hear about it from the salesman, not three days before Deepavali. Shoppers march with a mission on Usman Road. They swim across an ocean of bobbing heads holding on to their bags and lives, with one thought on their minds: ‘Deepavali clothes’.

The clothes are special; men and women choose them after hours of walking up and down T. Nagar. Every year, families set aside a reasonable budget for Deepavali wear, which is taken out of the wardrobe only to be worn on special occasions and duly flaunted as what they had bought for Deepavali.

Accessories galore

If you watch closely, a Deepavali shopper is rarely alone. He/she comes in groups comprising friends and family. It’s an annual ritual they look forward to. For many, celebrations begin in T. Nagar. Here, shopping starts at Ranganathan Street and Usman Road, and ends at Pondy Bazaar. The bazaar, with its tiny shops selling every accessory one can think of, is the destination for women who wish to coordinate their clothes with the right accessories.

At a store selling bangles, for instance, a woman pulls out her shimmering new sari from a shopping bag to buy metal bangles to go with it. “We have bangles from ten states,” brags salesman Viki. The speciality this year is multi-coloured metal bangles. “You needn’t hunt for matching bangles any more. These go with every outfit,” offers salesman Gani, at a nearby store. “Then there are ear studs and drops in various colours.” Gani also stocks stone-studded jimikkis, which he says are must-haves.

Ramesh is probably the happiest man in T. Nagar this evening. He has sold 40 clapping toy elephants so far, a decent number to add weight to his wallet. He pulls his hat over his ears and marches into Usman Road. “Poli, poli” calls out Murugan. He stands on the pavement by his bicycle with a drum of yellow polis hoping to tempt the hungry shopper. Kamatchi sells juicy watermelon from a cart. “I haven’t had a customer all evening,” she mumbles, slicing the fruit, nevertheless. Krishnamoorthy arranges coconut barfis and rava laddooson his cart while Muzir packs soan papdi in small packets by the roadside. It’s these men and women who add character to T. Nagar.

They know the ebb and flow of crowds in the area like the back of their hand. B. Dhulkarunai, who sells attar at his petty shop, speaks of how sales are steady for six months every year, especially during the Deepavali and Pongal seasons. “But business is dull this year,” he says. Dhulkarunai also makes name boards — he has been in the area since 1974.

Cut mango, cotton candy, coconut barfi, groundnut, murukku, sundal, bajji, vadai…food fragrances waft across the streets till late in the evening. As night falls, there are tired faces and impatient voices — the shoppers seem exhausted. But they continue to trek up and down the multi-storeyed textile showrooms. There’s chaos inside as people elbow one another in crammed halls, determined to pick the best.

Alerting shoppers

Outside, the city police call out warnings on their loudspeakers. “Cover your jewelled necks with a dupatta or sari,” announces a stern voice. Karthik and Yuvaraj saunter by just then, gazing at the shops on either sides of Usman Road. “I haven’t bought my Deepavali clothes yet,” says 13-year-old Karthik. He has come barefoot all the way from Mylapore with ten-year-old Yuvaraj. “I plan to buy red pants and a white shirt,” he explains. He has Rs.600 with him that he’s folded into the sleeve of his shirt. “Listen to what the police are saying…we have to be careful with our money.” Saying so, he merges with the wave of shoppers, hand in hand with his friend.