The MetroPlus team decides to do some street shopping this Deepavali

Women balance bags and sleepy babies followed by men who keep a tight hold on the older kids while they speak on their mobiles. There is giggling and exclamations at the bus stop as girls re-examine their purchases of hair clips, bangles and bags. Loud haggling fills the air as vendors and shoppers launch into lengthy debates. A man in a push cart sells buttermilk swimming with green chillies. He also has peanuts that he serves with a flourish, topped with chopped raw onions. Standing on the pavement, a young man grates bananas over a huge iron vessel with boiling oil. It’s swoosh, splash and sizzle as the smell of fried banana chips fills the air. Town Hall hums with pre-Deepavali shoppers.

The MetroPlus team decides to join the fun. First stop is a canteen for a refuel. We have heard glowing reports about it. We enter a compound near Cheran Book House and follow the smells. A few men huddle outside a tiny room with one metal table with benches on one side. We sidle in and watch in excitement as plump vadais are ladled out of a big black cauldron of oil in the sooty kitchen. We order vadai and tea and get a glowering look from the vadai maami who mutters something and slaps five yellow tokens on the table to be exchanged for tea.

The lure of paruppu vadais

We are astonished, but just then the the paruppu vadais arrive hot, brown and beautiful. Small glasses with pink frothy sweet tea are plonked down. Everyone bolts down the vadais in frightened silence as maami glares disapprovingly. She refuses to acknowledge our sunny ‘thank yous’ as we march out, promising ourselves that we will return to this highly diverting tiffin house!

Outside it is sunny, chirpy and bursting with good cheer. Almost every inch of the pavement is taken up by vendors shouting out invitations to the shoppers, who obligingly stop to haggle, cajole, argue and exclaim. Customers walk away triumphantly bearing their loot, while the vendors feign dismay! One of them briskly sells salwar kameezes for just Rs 100. “It’s all right if you don’t wear them; gift them to someone,” he says. There are muted sounds of joy as women find matching blouse pieces. Every one seems to be buying handkerchiefs and safety pins.

We jostle for space at the Bhura market. “6-aam Arivu earrings,” says Samiraj as he shows us gleaming hook-drop earrings. Really? “No, just joking!” he laughs. “It’s 7-aam Arivu jimikkis that are in this Deepavali.” Samiraj is a happy man. Two ladies with bulging shopping bags peer into a box of glass bangles; a salesperson shows a heavily-worked neckpiece to another gaggle of women. “Valayal kaaminga…” “Enna rate amma, enna design?” Fifteen minutes later, the lady has an array of glittering bangles in front of her. The tired salesman sighs when she demands, “Innum vera kaaminga.”

Welcome smells

The screech of vehicles and the warm smell of hot bajjis and chips welcome us back as we step out of Bhura Market laden with bindis, earrings and rubber bands. The smiling face of Dolma, from Tibet, draws us. She sells sweaters, monkey caps and woollen socks. From there we squeeze into the impossibly narrow opening into Uppukinaru Street, made even smaller by the line of tailors and their sewing machines. These alteration specialists shorten trousers, let out seams, adjust sleeve lengths.

Akka! Inga vanga, ellam irukku,” the shopkeepers call out. There is a dizzying variety of readymades, material, buttons, ribbons, laces, petticoats, undies, stone-studded necklaces and nail polishes. By now, we are in need of sustenance again. A conveniently located bajji kadai sells us keerai vadai that we wash down with soda. Rejuvenated, we march down the twists and turns of the area.

We sneeze our way through the spice market. We breathe in the festive jaggery smell. Dry fruits, some of them all the way from Tunisia, lure us into shops that also have strange looking condiments we’ve never seen before.

We retrace our steps and, as promised, return to the tiffin house, to pick up alu bondas this time.