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Waiting for frenzied shoppers

To cash in on the Onam tradition, textile manufacturers make their annual trips to Kochi. This time, there is a definite slump in sales. V. SAVITHA gets a feel of the pre-Onam mood.

COME ONAM, and there is a rush to get `Onakodi' - new clothes for the family. This is the season during which the textile industry, not just of the State but also of different parts of the country, mint money. As for Kochi city, boards screaming "Sale!!" and "Up to 50 per cent off" adorn the streets, signs hang from every electric post, every inch of the footpath and every nook and cranny along the main roads are taken up by vendors. Makeshift stalls on the pavements selling undergarments to large halls cramped with shelves of cloth - you have it all. The colourful festoons and the lights that invite customers into the stalls bring an instant festive mood.

With only a few days to go for Onam, the sales are yet to pick up in the city. M. G. Road and D. H. Road are the favourite venues for both small-scale hawkers and bigger textile sales. But compared to the busy, crowded pavements of the past years during this season, the city has yet to wake up this time round, though there are signs that things will pick closer to Onam.

The Khadi Gramodyog, which opened its "Onam Mela 2002" on July 15, still has not seen enough customers. Employee Abu K. P. hopes it would change from the first week of this month. He is all optimism when he says, "Once all the stalls in the fair open, and everything is in full swing, there will be people who come for bulk purchases." But even so, there is a definite slump in the market, he adds. One reason for this might be, Mr Abu adds, the shifting of the location of the usual Onam Fair from the Durbar Hall Ground to the neighbouring ground.

The vast Durbar Hall Ground used to bubble with activity at the approach of Onam. However, this year, with the District Tourism Promotion Council taking it up as part of city beautification, the fair has had to be relocated to the new ground, which will host the vendors under the dome roofs which are, in comparison, much restricted with regard to space.

The trend of textile sales during the Onam season was set by two major concerns years ago - Roop Sangam and Vastra Sagar. The former has returned this year also, but the latter has not. But it does not seem to be missed, as there are scores of others to take up the place. The "Impact" sale, which is on at the TDM Hall, is a first-timer here during this season. Though they do not know what sort of a turnout to expect, they are satisfied with the current response, says an employee.

One of the textile giants, Garden Vareli, is also here this year with their wares at discounted rates. This is the first time they are here with the Onam shoppers in mind, though they do conduct such sales at other times of the year, says sales organiser Dilip. B. Pandya. "Today I think the rain is keeping the customers away, otherwise we have good sales," he comments, explaining the lack of activity in the hall.

Catering to a different section of the society are concerns like Charulatha, who specialises in Bengali saris. Charulatha has been regularly organising sales in Kochi for the past eight years. This time, because the poor response they received during the five-day sale during the last week of July at the Bharat Tourist Home, they have decided to come back on August 14. "We hope to have a better turn-out then," says Kamala Rajan, the proprietor of Charulatha.

She points out that they always come with something new because "You have to be innovative when you come to Kerala."

Every year, most of these sales have a common phrase to attract customers. In 2000, it was "Millennium," in 2001, "Margin Free." This year, the magic word seems to be Factory - "at factory price", "direct factory sales", "factory seconds" - so goes the various advertisements. An interesting fact is that most of these sales are held by companies from outside the State.

What brings so many establishments from as far away as Rajasthan? Apparently, the consumer demand. And traditions like Onakodi, only add to the consumerist behaviour of society.

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