Bitter Chocolate

Customers at a shop in Zaveri Bazaar Mumbai

A walk through the wholesale markets of Delhi reveals the changing face of festive business

The cycle rickshaw finally stops, after a journey through commotion. The aroma of spices is in the air. We are at Khari Baoli, the spices and dried fruit bazaar of Delhi. Diwali is here in two weeks. The bazaar is busy; workmen loading and unloading wares, traders striking deals, customers going about their purchases. The bazaar was started by Begum Fateh, one of the wives of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, and four centuries later, it still remains the principal spice bazaar of the city.

From Lahori Gate on the western end of the market, as one walks to the Fatehpuri Masjid, one finds the milk products and dried fruit vendors, two micro markets that usually pick up during this season. Shops here are stocked with mouth-watering sweets and mountains of almonds, pistachios, walnuts and apricots. Cellophane-wrapped gift boxes are arranged in various patterns. But no one's too upbeat.

"Demand has slowed over the years. The last time I recall a good season was five years ago," says Rajiv Batra, president of the Khari Baoli Traders Association. "The demand for dried fruit has dipped by almost 30 per cent this year. Ordinarily the gift box sales yield a turnover of at least Rs 1 crore a day, while the wholesale trade is Rs 4-5 crore a day."

Batra is also a wholesaler of ghee and that is where the pinch is felt the most. "The average turnover of the wholesale trade in ghee is Rs 2-2.5 crore per day (on a regular day). The demand this season has fallen by nearly 50 per cent." The other ingredient in sweets, mava, which has an average turnover of Rs 2 crore, too has dipped by 40 per cent.

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