It’s 11 in the morning. Shops across Delhi are just about beginning to wake up to another day. The chill has pushed back opening hours. But at Sarojini Nagar, shoppers have already warmed up, and are going from shop to shop and kiosk to kiosk, to where vendors are shouting themselves hoarse about the great bargains they can strike. Delhi’s most popular — and undoubtedly trendiest — flea market is back in business and full of pep.
“This is Delhi’s response to the terrorists who unleashed horror on shoppers here on the evening of October 29, 2005,” says Mukund Kumar, who sells “latest fashion” and “designer” skirts, shirts and tops. Costing one-fifth of what similar ‘designer-wear’ clothes would be priced at in showrooms, these have young girls thronging his shop.
The blast two years ago had threatened to rob the market of its spirit. And for some three months, it seemed that it had succeeded. As the market struggled to rise from the debris, few shoppers risked coming here. But that was then. Today, Sarojini Nagar is back to being the popular hub it once was. Ground Zero — Shyam Juice Corner — where the bomb had exploded in 2005 too is bustling with activity.
The blast had claimed its owner, Lal Chand Saluja. And the kiosk where shoppers, tired after fruitful haggling, stopped for juice, cold-drinks, papri, aloo chaat and golgappas, was blown off. For some time, Shyam Juice Corner was a symbol of the devastation the market saw.
Today it is the symbol of hope, of life and of the spirit that refuses to die. Says Devika Choudhury, a ceramic designer here to buy curtains and cushion covers for her new house in Hauz Khas, “After the blast, I was a bit apprehensive about returning to the market. But then, anything can happen anywhere. I choose not to live in fear.” Choudhury calls Sarojini Nagar her favourite market. “You get everything here — fabric, bedsheets, clothes, jewellery, toys, bags, shoes, watches — all for one-fifth the price.”
The police presence in the market has, meanwhile, added to the security — though it is also a reminder of how horribly things went wrong once. But neither the shoppers nor the shopkeepers want to think of that. “It’s in the past,” says Dhruv Ahuja, here shopping for fruits. “Delhi would be incomplete without Sarojini Nagar. True, we’ve had to pay a painful price for its popularity, but we’ve put that behind us,” he adds. It’s 6 in the evening — the time when the blast had occurred. And the market is choc-a-bloc with people.
It will remain so for another three-odd hours before it’s time to call it a day. As she makes her way to her car, her arms loaded with clothes that’ll be her Winter Wardrobe 2007, Shreya Lall, a Delhi University student sums up, “Sarojini Nagar is more than just a market. It’s a part of Delhi, and we cannot do without it.”