What can you get street shopping in Chennai for under ₹100 ?

In a street that once used to mint money, we set out to spend money. How many accessories can we buy for under ₹100?

Published - May 27, 2019 06:12 pm IST

The year was 1841. Chennai was still Madras Presidency — a province under the East India Company — and saw a coin making facility put up on a street near Central, earning the name Mint Street.

I wonder if the people who lived next to the facility could hear the clink of metal on metal as the coins were minted; or did the din of factory work blanket it? Presently, however, two long irritable honks pull me out of my reverie. I look around to see bicycles, cars, bikes, autos, pedestrians and cows alike jostle for space in the narrow stretch that is Mint Street. Everyone has to be somewhere, doing something — this isn’t the place for daydreaming.

What this could be, however, is a place for some good old budget shopping. This time I have brought in reinforcements: a serial shopper friend who knows how to get a good bargain. Together, we decide to test how many accessories we can buy for under ₹100.

Scent of a woman

If you close your eyes and walk through Mint Street, two things are bound to happen. One, you will get run over by a vehicle. But before that — and this is the second thing — you will notice a shift in the smell of the region every few metres, depending on what is being sold.

Running parallel to Mint Street is the much shorter Venkatachala Mudali street, where we make our first buy: the lane is lined with attar shops, with a few pharmacies nestled in between.

We enter Mohammad Yasheen’s attar shop, replete with glass bottles of different shapes and sizes. There are also bowls of surma that you can buy for ₹50. For the past 10 years, Yasheen has been coming to this shop every day from Tambaram, where both his house and his factory are.

One by one, Yasheen runs the glass knob of each bottles on our forearms for us to test the scents: permutations and combinations like rose, jasmine, sandalwood, and musk. We point to the bigger bottles on the side, and he dismisses us with a wave of his hand, “You won’t like it, it’s for the guys.” We try them out anyway, and find he’s right. They smell like what teenage boys douse themselves to avoid taking a shower. My personal favourite is the tiny bottle of woody oudh that smells like a forest, and costs just ₹30.

Glass houses

We head back to Mint Street to hunt for jewellery. The glint of bangles from New Mahalakshmi Bangles catches our eye and we enter the shop to a burst of kaleidoscopic colour. Rows and rows of bangles take up every inch of the walls, from the ceiling to the floor. “Out of every five boxes of glass bangles, we lose two due to breakage,” says Ganpath Singh, the manager. “My brother, Nayan Singh, set up the shop 20 years ago,” he informs us as he shows us the stack of wedding bangles with intricate stonework on them.

Most of the bangles, made of brass, plastic, and glass, are sourced from Jaipur and Mumbai. Amidst all the colour is one row of off white fibre chudas that traditionally adorn the wrists of Marwari women. “For the past five years, these have remained untouched. Nobody here buys them. Now, if anyone were to ask, I would give them away for free,” he says.

The cheapest bangles there are made of glass, cost ₹25, and are so camp, you can only wear them ironically. For ₹5 more, you can buy basic steel bangles.

Roadside dreams

Out ₹55, our next goal is to find earrings in under ₹45, a challenge as none of the stalls sell anything less than ₹80. Unless you settle for steel hoops for ₹20 — which we don’t since it’s not 2009 anymore. We need something classic: oxidised, black metal that screams ‘ jhola -carrying journalist’.

After covering almost two kilometres, we have almost given up hope when we chance upon B Nagalakshmi’s roadside stall. The 41-year-old from Suryapet in Telangana, started this business right outside the house her family has been renting for the past four years. She buys the ‘fashion jewellery’ wholesale and keeps a meagre profit margin; the jhumkas we like cost ₹60.

Despite being as stringent as we could, not only did we exceed our budget of ₹100, we also go back home dreaming of things we could have bought if we sprang more cash. But it’s okay; you can always drown your regrets in the panipuris at Kakada Ramprasad. What’s ₹30 more?

In this column, we explore the city to unearth its most interesting facets for both tourists and locals. There is just one catch. How much can you do with ₹99?

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