Durga Puja,with all the glamour associated with it,manages to overshadow all other Bengali festivals. So naturally,a Bengalis wardrobe is not dictated by something as whimsical as a season. Spring,summer be damned,its fall all the way. But if there is one other festival which manages to provoke the consumerist monster in us (however gentle it might be),its Nobo Borsho (Bengali New Years). Its more out of compulsion really,for the rulebook of rituals clearly state that we have to start the new year wearing something new. Since the rulebook does not clearly state whether the new attire has to be a formal one or casual,the pragmatic Bengali chooses to interpret the custom in his or her own way.
Thus,a chaitra shopping expedition ends up being a matter-of-fact exercise in what can be best described as controlled consumerism. Bengali mothers with unwilling moppets in tow throng New Market and Gariahat to buy nighties for themselves,nightsuits for their husbands,bermudas for the male child and tep jama (slips) for the girl child,strictly in that order. The emphasis,as it is evident by the shopping list,is on comfort and not vanity.
The markets too are geared accordingly. No sooner than the first kal baishakhi (North Westerly) hits the city,than New market is festooned with shapeless maxis and nighties in lurid prints (the messier the print,the easier it is to hide the turmeric stains, a wise kakima once told me). This year too was no different,nighties abounded the shopping hub of Kolkata on a warm April afternoon. Kakimas in shepherded their packs of unwilling kids from one shop to another,college students window shopped and foreign tourists armed with fancy digital cameras took pictures of everything in sight ( oh look a saree click,oh look a pile of sweets click). And sure enough there was some leisure-wear shopping.
There were nighties in every hue and shape (umm lets say anti shape). There were racks and racks of them. Enough to inspire nightmares of a nighty-clad metropolis. There were bermudas too and vests. Earlier,leisure-wear for the average Bengali man was cotton kurta and pajamas. But young men prefer bermudas and vests nowadays, said S Ahmed a stall owner in New Market who has seen the changing buying habit of the Bengali shopper for about 40 years. Thus there were berumdas and shorts. Of the checked variety. Of the the jungle-variety. And the most eye-catching of them all- ones with neon-coloured drawstrings.
Even as I made my way out of the leisure-wear haven,I saw a heartwarimg sight. Ignoring the ‘no bargining’ sign in a nighty stall,a well-fed kakima badgered the scrawny shopkeeper. I will pay only Rs 200 for three. Take it or leave it, she bellowed. He looked away,she kept bellowing. Aa,all’s well with the world.