Saturday, January 26, 2008

Shopping – Card Street, Chawri Bazaar

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Card Street of Chawri Bazaar

A street dedicated to wedding cards.

[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Delhi marriages may be made in heaven but their announcements are printed in Chawri Bazaar. Ask Sonal and Geetesh, or Yashwant and Suman. Like thousands of Delhi's newly wed couples, they too had their wedding cards printed here.

This market, a part of which is dedicated exclusively to wedding cards, has an easy access. If you are at the Chawri Bazaar metro station, walk in the direction of Jama Masjid. Soon chaat stalls will give way to card shops (more clue: daily wage laborers carrying tonnes of A-4 size paper on their bent back). This is our destination.

Huge is the word. A store owner casually observed that the bazaar has more than 500 card shops. Another claimed it to be Asia's biggest mandi of paper and wedding cards. It wasn't always so. The card business started here during the 70s. The business quickly took root as all people needed to make a card--designers, printers, and labourers--were already in the area. The trade flourished and today all sorts of cards are sold here--from Rs. 2 to Rs. 80 to more, in colours ranging from garish maroons and purples to conservative whites, printed in quite a few official languages (Hindi, Bengali, Gurumukhi, Urdu…), and catering to everybody, from Hindus (of course!) to Sikhs to Muslims.

The stores generally stipulate a 50 card minimum. Of course, the wedding season, from September to April, is the busiest time. Both big showrooms and small stalls are then crowded with shoppers--Mummies, Papas, bhayyas, didis, jijajis--agonizing over designs and colours and the wording.

"Nowadays ladka-ladki, especially those who work in the IT sector, often come themselves to chose their wedding cards," says Vipin Ahuja of Cards Corner (seen in the picture above). The younger generation, which prefers "sober and non-flashy cards" is often at odds with parents who want "as many religious symbols as possible," he observes. Nevertheless, the inter-generational disputes are resolved--often in favour of mummyji and daddyji--and orders given.

During the season, Ahuja says that he monthly prints around 25,000 cards. Not impressed? Multiply that with 500 shops and you have 1 crore, 25 lakh invitations coming out from the card market each month! Hah, where's my invite?

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