City Hangout – Braid Shopping, Chitli Qabar Bazar
The hanging parandas.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Bangles, rusks (they are Delhi’s best rusks!), malai wali chai, flower sehras for brides and grooms, carrot halwa (including the rare white carrot halwa), wall clocks, bullet coffee (only in winter), crockery, goat meat, jewellery, artificial jewellery, mehendi powder, nebulizer, vegetables, burqas, fish, lehengas, nihari, crisp new crackling currency notes (exchanged for torn notes), sandals, dahi bada… you name it and Old Delhi’s Chitli Qabar Bazar will have a shop selling it. The historic market also has the city’s most extensive button shop, dedicated to buttons alone.
It has also shops selling parandas, or chotis, the artificial braids. These hanging parandas of Chitli Qabar are among the most arresting sights of the bazar, hanging right in front of the shops, flanking the bustling market lane.
One such place has been selling the parandas for 50 years, from the time it was set up by late Sardar Khan. The founder’s grandson stocks gota-kinari as well, the heavily embroidered laces usually appended to the borders of festive lehengas, shararas and saris. The parandas are as blingy as the gota-kinari, though more shops sell the latter than the former.
The pitch blank strands of the paranda’s long hair (cotton threads, actually) are clipped at the bottommost point with colourful frills and glossy tassels. A more ostentatious paranda can be as pricey as 500 rupees. The shopkeeper notes that the golden era of the parandas is over—until some decades ago, the Walled City ladies would wear the paranda as part of their everyday dress, even within the home, he says. “But now the parandas are worn mostly during weddings and other functions.”
Whatever, these intricately designed parandas stir up the imagination, instantly transporting a viewer to some heritage workshop nestled deep within the cramped Walled City alleys, the skilled hands of the traditional craftsmen rustling out the parandas with immaculate care and craftsmanship. But these parandas have nothing to do with Delhi—they are mass-produced in the factories of industrial Surat, the shopkeeper clarifies. (Same are the origins of gota-kinari).
Now a troupe of shoppers storm into the shop. Some of them slowly run their scrutinising hands across the gota-kinari, while others turn towards the parandas.