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On first day of popular Mela,crowds don’t disappoint,sales do

Nargis Totakhai,16,and her older sister Neelab,20,stand in a semi-dark stall attending customers in English and Hindi. Shokirova Sabohat,29,sits with her arms folded,waiting for customers and hoping to understand snatches of their conversation this time.

Nargis Totakhai,16,and her older sister Neelab,20,stand in a semi-dark stall attending customers in English and Hindi. Shokirova Sabohat,29,sits with her arms folded,waiting for customers and hoping to understand snatches of their conversation this time.

This is their first time in India and it is the hope of business at India’s largest mela,Surajkund,that brings them here. And it is their craft that drew thousands of people to the Mela on its first day.

“The Mela was not open to the public during the first half of the day when the dignitaries were here. We were expecting a lesser number of people today but are happy to see so many people in the second half,” said the security officer of the Mela,Darshan Lal Malik.

Surajkund looks like an old untouched village,with the mud stalls with thatched roofs and their mud walls covered with sketches of animals. The first thing that brings customers back to reality is the small price tags attached to the handicraft items.

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“It is costlier than other places. It is a great place to roam around for the whole day,but I can’t say the same about shopping here,” says Supriya Kohli,a 25-year-old marketing executive.

In Surajkund,there are stalls from almost every state in India selling indigenous crafts popular worldwide. In the area demarcated for SAARC nations,stalls of Nepal,Bhutan,Sri Lanka,Egypt,Tajikistan and Afghanistan are lined up,with the craftsmen often going from one customer to another trying their translation skills.

Even with help from their embassies,language remains a hindrance to a good sale. Sabohat,the Tajik craftswoman,hadn’t sold anything till 5 pm and looked tired of just smiling. “I have not sold anything today,but tomorrow,Inshaallah,I will,” she said. She,however,did not need to wait for that,a cluster of customers were soon surrounding her.

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Most of the stall owners and craftsmen said the sales were lesser than that on the first day of last year’s fair. “We have had a lot of people who go through the items and while we know they want to buy,somehow they don’t. They too feel bad after not buying anything,” says Zakir Ahmad,a Kashmiri craftsman dealing in papier-mâché items.

A customer,Anupama looks at a papier-mâché jewellery box but leaves without buying it.

“I came here last year as well. This time I know I will only buy what I need. We got a 20 per cent salary cut this year,so we can’t afford indulgence,at least for now,” she says. The Mela was inaugurated in the morning by Vice President,Mohammad Hamid Ansari,who began with a visit to the section displaying crafts from the SAARC countries.

First published on: 02-02-2010 at 01:15:33 am
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