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All's fair at the Trade Fair

There is something for everyone at the ongoing India International Trade Fair-2002 at Pragati Maidan. But this traders' dream is not an unalloyed shoppers' paradise, finds ANJANA RAJAN.

DECKED UP AND SOMEWHERE TO GO: The ongoing India International Trade Fair is a feast for your eyes, a challenge for your feet. Photos: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar.

DELHIITES ARE notoriously bad at queuing. To succeed in making us energetic denizens of the Capital form a quasi-single line requires enormous power wielded only by merchants of terror, managers of celebrities, and, perhaps, the visa issuing authorities of selected countries. But watching the unending lines of people patiently waiting their turn to enter Pragati Maidan where the India International Trade Fair is currently on, it is obvious there is one more attraction strong enough to discipline the errant population - a shopping bonanza with luscious discounts and just about everything that could figure on anyone's shopping list from a pin to a housing loan.

The ticket counters may be relatively less crowded with quick-moving queues, but they are rendered nearly invisible from the sidewalk on Mathura Road by the serpentine formations inching forward through the barriers where security arrangements using metal detectors and some desultory frisking slow the pace. It requires a capacity for swimming against the current to reach the ticket window. The more athletic members of the female sex dodge nimbly under the metal barriers to emerge - ladylike - at the window reserved for ladies, where a few harassed wives are being advised on money matters by worried spouses.

As the multitudes finally swarm through the turnstiles, they seem no longer capable of being held back, and it is wise to choose one of the currents flowing irrevocably into various exhibition halls. Besides the State pavilions specially decked up for the Trade Fair, there are numerous companies displaying their wares, as well as textiles and crafts. A special display is Saras, in which rural artisans from across the country are said to be participating. Bargain socks and hankies, jute products in enough variety to enable you to furnish an entire home and office with nothing but this natural material, fruit preserves from Uttaranchal, tourism opportunities from Chhattisgarh, computer software from Punjab, toys from everywhere - for the intrepid shopper there are ever more stalls to saunter through.

Food and drink are a great relief, but not everything comes cheap. With tender coconuts sold at Rs. 20 each, seasoned coastal dwellers shudder and walk away. Kulfi wielding adults and children show they can walk while they lick, threading their way through the crowds as piped music alternates with announcements about lost children.

The Hall of Nations, where most of the clothes and consumer goods as well as some durables are found, is a massive humming hive. In the health and beauty area, specially employed barkers intone the virtues of their products.

"This oil is for people whose hair is turning grey or falling out," says a young lady with a penetrating look at your scalp, while another offers a herbal medicine claiming to cure an astonishing range of ailments, and a young man calls out, "Hair istyling machine!"

India International Trade Fair-2002 is large and long. Though the nightmarish traffic conditions outside are noticeably better this year, the same cannot be said of pedestrian traffic within the fair grounds. As one jostled child complained, "Nobody even says sorry!"

But all is fair, they say, in love and war. And this is the arena of trade wars.

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