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Between Regal and Volga... .

Regal. Plaza. Standard. Volga. United Coffee House. Yes, they are all in Connaught Place but there is more to this age-old New Delhi favourite than you can see in neon signs on the streets. Come, take a walk around the place, speak to the women pavement-sellers and you might just strike the right bargain. MADHUR TANKHA chats up a few to know the tricks of their flourishing trade... .


WOMEN OF CONNAUGHT PLACE UNITE: Women shop and sell on a lazy summer afternoon in New Delhi's Connaught Place. Photo: S. Subramanium.

IT IS a blistering day and mercury is giving no respite to those browsing and the pavement-sellers, who eke out their livelihood sitting under the colossal cream colour marble dome of Connaught Place in New Delhi. These huge pillars, which bear testimony to the craftsmanship of Lutyens' architectural era, have come to represent this bustling marketplace. Occasionally whitewash and some repair work is required on these structures, which have managed to withstand vagaries of weather but not the time barometer.

That these sellers are all women and competing with burly male shopkeepers speaks much about their indomitable spirit and ability to grasp the tricks of the trade. Some of them give shop owners a run-for-their-money as they diligently go about their job of coaxing and prodding passers-by. They get pleased no end to see strangers out of sheer curiosity getting attracted to their husky and sometimes sweet voice. But they quickly resume their business skills and engage them in quick, gabbling talk. Up for grabs are resplendent purses with shining glasses, bags emblazoned with embroidery, ghagras and other dresses with ethnic touch. These street-smart ladies -- mostly Gujaratis -- may not be literates but to keep poverty and deprivation at bay they have picked up not only a smattering of English but also French. Of course their conversation pleases foreigners. Though Delhiites have preconceived notion that white skinned men and women, who wear tattered faded or stonewashed jeans, bandanas and ear rings are hippies hooked to intoxicants, the truth is that they have bulging wallets, containing not just Indian currency but currency of their own country. These foreigners are a boon from heaven for these sellers and an irritant for shopkeepers. The foreigners don't return empty handed as after negotiating the price, which keeps fluctuating depending on how nave the buyer is, they take back the stuff - a memorabilia, ladies garments or cushion cover to their homeland.

Broad over the beam Russian women come in mammoth numbers to the Capital ostensibly to do lots of purchases and then sell off the goods on the boulevards of Moscow. They come in droves but indulge in chaffering and make great noise if they feel the price quoted is high. Back to these pavement sellers - the ubiquitous sellers are willing to come down on the price. But they don't reduce their rates if there is a solitary buyer.

Hanna, a 19-year-old English girl, says, "I get immense pleasure not only having a dekko at what these ladies sell and their mannerism but also love teaching them new words to enhance their vocabulary. They seem to be more honest in telling about their procurement and pricing than some of the retailers -- who are in an advantageous position as they have a roof over their head but put staggering rates on their wares. I am buying cushion covers, bed sheets and embroidered dresses for my cousins in England."

It is evening and foreigners continue their talks with the sellers. Some buy, some don't but at least they make it a point to have a close look at their stuff -- blabbering helps you know!

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