December in Delhi can be quite weird. It comes with mist, fog and smog all gift-wrapped in a suitcase. Despite the chill, however, there is no dearth of people who can be found wiling away an afternoon shopping in Lajpat Nagar. You know Lajpat Nagar, right? It is South Delhi’s stereotypical open market, frequented by a majority of Delhi’s cinematic Punjabis and C.R. Park’s Bengalis, among others. So, when a female cousin of mine from Kolkata fidgeted about how I should buy her a sweater courtesy my new job, I agreed to take her to Lajpat Nagar.
We hopped out of the auto-rickshaw – the driver rather scornful of our lack of ‘change’. How we are supposed to always have exact change on our person, is something I am yet to discover. As also, how these autos always have to “come back empty” from wherever you ask them to go. “It’s all a Delhi thing, Di.” my cousin made a wry face. “Back in Kolkata, the auto walas get bundles from the bank.” Before she could embark upon a full-blown eulogy of the ‘great city of Tagore’, I pointed out a winter-wear shop. “50% Discountt” it lovingly announced. “Shall we go check that one out?” I pleaded. “Of course not di. What kind of store has a spelling mistake shouting right from the door?” So much for her dratted English tuition. Would she mind a lecture on starting salaries in IT firms?
A red overcoat at a shop down the sixth lane appealed to her. This, after she had rejected a lovely (or so I thought) fur coat because it was priced entry-level and “couldn’t be of good quality di” and also a grey jacket with a trendy zipper since “it would look too tomboyish for my curls”. Last time I knew, she had perfectly straight hair. “But I would be curling it for New Year, you see.” Course I do. I saw the afternoon sun slowly slide down the horizon and the hands of my wristwatch complete their fourth complete round. I also saw a few wads of notes dissolve in the goodness of “banta” – lemon soda with masala salt, panipuri, chaat and lunch at Mac Donald’s.
“They don’t have a trial room, di!” my cousin announced at a roadside stall, waving a purple cardigan at me. “How on earth are we supposed to see if this fits?” “I think that’s the point. You need to take a risk.” She shook her head and proceeded to undo the buttons of her sweater, followed by the zipper of the one she had on underneath. I think I heard at least seven pairs of eyes pop out. A mangled dog that arrived at the scene and prepared to sniff all my cousin’s toes salvaged the situation. We fled.
Two hours down the line, we were at a dress store. In Karol Bagh or basically, as far away from Lajpat Nagar as she could manage. I handed out a debit card to the assistant and swallowed as I signed the receipt. The cousin’s eyes lit up as the assistant packed a glittering blue cocktail dress in a supposedly “eco-friendly”, plastic bag. “I think I made a good choice di. This is so New Year-sy! We can always get the sweater sometime else.” she smiled in contentment and hugged me a “thank you!”
In the ride back home, I focused my energies on the comforts of the quilt, a hot-water bag for my sore legs and next month’s salary to compensate for the consequences of “the gift”.“So, see you soon di?” she beamed as the auto stopped near the hotel. Sure, I mumbled. Sometime in the next century.