I don’t remember how young I was, maybe 9, maybe 10. But I distinctly remember my brother’s excitement as he pulled me to the fair’s newest ride. It was called the ‘Dragon Coaster’ – a miniature Roller Coaster. Unlike the Roller Coaster, this ride did not turn upside down rather it took side-way turns which made for 3 complete rounds. To my younger self, that seemed such a great high. I was thrilled and that thrill was matched in my brother’s eyes as he rushed me for a second time on the ride.
This is the story of my last ride at the fair. I have been going to the fair every year but not once have I taken another ride, not once has my brother accompanied me and not once have I acknowledged to anybody that I go to the fair. You may wonder why is that? Because I grew up and the fair did not fit the bill of being cool. There were cooler options like the amusement park or the mall. Then, why would someone want to go the fair? The shops no longer excite, the bubble blowers no longer excite, the food no longer excites and the dolls that dance on threads also no longer excite. So, no one ever talked about going to the fair. But anyway, I have been going every year because my parents enjoy the fair and their company still excites me.
What fair am I talking about? The trade fair that runs in my hometown during January-February every year. We are not a traditional family per se but we do uphold ‘our’ traditions seriously- like the mandatory after pooja drive on Diwali, Friday night movie and our Saturday visit to the fair.
The Trade Fair has something to offer to every person. Divided into sixteen segments called the chhatris -canopies- there are local electronic, furniture, automobiles retailers running great discounts on their products, there is a Shilp Bazar (Craft Fair) that features dainty artifacts, hand woven carperts and rugs, varieties of silks and pashmina, there is the infamous ‘Bombay Kitchen Gallery’ and other not so famous kitchen galleries displaying fancy tools for the kitchen, there are the pastel shaded kurtas with Chikan embroidery from Lucknow, the Kashmiri embroidered long phirans and ponchos, pashmina shawls and stoles from Jammu, every possible manifestation of street food and very cheap rides that fancy amusement parks boast of.
My father who is a ‘I don’t walk I drive’ person will enthusiastically walk for a good 2-3 hours as we move across the chhatries, picking groundnuts and popcorn on his way. We walk into electronic stores to see a certain appliance let’s say an induction plate but end up being hooked on a coffee machine that produces a brilliant froth during demonstration. Throughout that evening we toy with the conflict of need vs greed on the coffee machine. Every year we hunt for our favorite bhel puri vendor, every year we make a mental note of the chhatri he sits in and every year we end up forgetting it. We check into blanket stores to quiz the vendors on the prices and then my mother very smugly informs them that she is from Punjab where she gets a better quality at 3/4 the price.
We know of a Pashmina vendor who comes from Jammu to set up a stall here. The mark of a true Pashmina is that no matter how long it is, it can pass through a tiny ring. We visit this stall every year and every year the old man passes a shawl through a ring, expecting for us to be fascinated like it is the very first time. This act is then followed by him showing us his treasure- a silver embroidered Pashmina shawl which he has to dishearteningly keep aside once we tell him that we are eyeing something less luxurious. Sometimes, I think that he is constantly on a hunt for a match for the treasure- that being a self actualization milestone for him. So, it is customary for him to show that shawl to every one who comes with the hope of finding the one who can truly appreciate it.
My mother ardently looks forward to the Crafts Fair. A part of the clothes section operates on the Flea Market principles, the deeper you go, the more likely you are to find finer printed fabrics at throwaway prices. Our eyes are constantly on alert for interesting pottery crafts that can make their way into our living rooms. There is a swing that I see every year, the more I see it, the more I yearn to own it- if only we had a bigger balcony. For the last three years maybe, I see these low coffee tables and chairs-that are all the rage currently-that I place in my imaginary garden for imaginary high
tea coffee. When I am done doing that, we peruse through the many warm stoles and silk pieces to zero in on the subtle colors and patterns.
Another mandatory visit is a stall that my mother stumbled upon an accident, a happy accident because they sell Pinterest worthy bedding, rugs, mats, mittens, comforters and covers again at very reasonable prices. You think of a home furnishing item, they have it, provided you are willing to spend some time looking because like everything good in life, their intricately embroidered pieces demand effort. If my hometown had a Little Black Book website, they would necessarily feature this stall as the Commercial Street of home furnishings, and of course the Crafts Bazar for offering some dainty artifacts.
I have been going to the fair every year. Like anything that you have been doing on a constant basis, the fair has made for many memories across the years. The reason that my nostalgia has surfaced today is because my parents went to the fair today but I did not. In fact, I will not be going this year because I am 1800 kilometers away from my hometown. But even if I cannot go this year, at least I can talk about the very little talked about fair, about the skilled workers who travel thousands of miles annually to find a market for their art, about the unappreciated labor that goes into organizing and running a fair every year, about how family dates can be fun too and about how the humblest of places you visit can make for a number of stories to tell. Among other things, I will sit on my imaginary swing in my imaginary balcony sipping on to coffee and munching cookies, till it is 2018 and the fair opens its doors again.