Price rise, parking space problem, and wider options for shoppers are among the factors

Being a fourth-generation resident of T.Nagar, P.Venugopal nervously awaits the onset of Deepavali shopping season. In the next few days, an estimated five to six lakh visitors would descend daily on to a patch of land that is just two km in radius but records the highest volume of sales of gold, silver, textile and general merchandise in the State.

Though he lives just a stone's throw away from the busy commercial area, Mr. Venugopal never shops in T.Nagar. “It used to be a quiet neighbourhood 20 years ago. Now people rush to T.Nagar even for small purchases. Stores get crowded as early as 7 a.m.,” he says.

The traffic police have announced a plan to be implemented in phases. “Restriction on vehicle movement would increase progressively,” said Sanjay Arora, Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic). “One-ways have been devised and autorickshaw movement would be regulated. Traffic volumes would come down by 60 per cent to make way for the increased pedestrian movement.” The car parks attached to all shops as well as the one operated by Chennai Corporation near Panagal Park were full through the weekend.

Price rise

However, traders in T.Nagar expect a relatively subdued Deepavali this year because of price rise and a wider range of shopping options. Nalli Kuppuswamy Chetti, president of the Usman Road Traders' Association, said compared to last year, the price of materials has increased by 50 per cent. He expects the sale volume this year to be around Rs.300 crore. Shanthi Saravanan, a resident of Villivakkam, said that with spiralling prices, this year's Deepavali would be a subdued one. “Every year our budget for the festival is Rs.6,000. We will cut down on crackers and sweets to purchase enough clothes for everyone.”

But for many households, Deepavali sales began as early as Saraswathi Puja day. Sources in the industry said that buyers are going for more silk saris this year. Six out of 10 customers ask for the silk section and since it is a once in a year occasion, they go for the heavier silks. Conservative estimates put footfalls per shop in T.Nagar to be around 15,000 every day. A number of shops have also started offering the option of purchasing saris and churidhar materials online and they are delivered by courier.

The frenzy of Deepavali shopping is yet to catch on in other commercial hubs such as Purasawalkam. Though police have made security arrangements including installing watch towers and roping off space for pedestrians, they have not started enforcing it as the crowd is manageable.

Shopkeepers are expecting the crowd to swell from Tuesday. G.Sivakumar, a garment store owner on Purasawalkam High Road, said that the cost of garments have gone up by 10-20 per cent. However, he does not anticipate any alarming dip in the sales.

Parking space

Finding vehicle parking space is a major challenge in the shopping areas of Purasawalkam, T.Nagar and George Town. Even shopkeepers admit that it is an issue bothering them. In the absence of sufficient space, shoppers often leave their vehicles on lanes of nearby residential localities. Traffic congestion and parking space do influence the customers' choice of shopping destinations. Residents like Baby Mohan of Vadapalani think that Deepavali is the only occasion to splurge. “My husband and I have planned to spend Rs.15,000 for clothes and crackers. We will be shopping in Anna Nagar to avoid the crowds in T.Nagar. Most major brands have outlets in Anna Nagar too.” The practice of purchasing gold during Deepavali, followed in many families, could also see a change this year in view of the soaring prices. On their part, jewellery showrooms are gearing up with discounts, schemes, light weight jewellery and low weight gold coins to lure customers.

Pollution

Deepavali is not a festive, celebratory season for everyone. It also brings with it certain avoidable health problems such as cracker burn injuries, indigestion and loss of hearing – temporary or permanent. Increased awareness of diabetes has made people wary of consuming sweets but the problem of noise pollution has received little or no attention.

“Constant loud noise could make persons restless, angry and fidgety, leading to sleep disturbances and impulsive behaviour,” says ENT surgeon Ravi Ramalingam. While the normal decibel level for humans is 60 dB, most crackers emit more than 80 dB noise, enough to cause a temporary hearing loss.

“Every year, post Deepavali, many patients report with tinnitus (a constant ringing sound in the ears), perforation of ear drums, blocked ear and temporary hearing loss. Tinnitus, which commonly occurs after noise exposure, is often permanent,” Dr. Ramalingam says.

The chemical composition of fire crackers, some samples analysed at the Bombay Natural History Society Laboratory, Mumbai, showed an alarmingly high presence of extremely toxic heavy metals like cadmium and lead, in addition to metals like copper, magnesium and potassium in fire-crackers. The high level of sulphur dioxide, which is readily soluble, restricts the breathing process, he adds.

Besides the elderly, who are most affected by the pollution, Deepavali is an unpleasant experience for animals. With their heightened sense of hearing, animals often panic. Gopi Shankar, who works for an NGO, recalls how he tried saving a dog last Deepavali when it ran away fearing crackers. Veterinarians say that it is important to feed animals high levels of calcium and vitamins, since they refuse to eat when scared.

(With inputs from K.Lakshmi, Deepa H. Ramakrishnan, R.Sujatha and Ajai Sreevatsan)

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