Making malas out of money

Kinari Bazaar, Delhi's biggest wedding market, turns bundles of notes into wearable money

"It came from the south. It's styled like a rajnigandha mala, only it's a million times costlier." Akhil Kumar, surrounded by the tinsel and sparkle of his shop, a farrago of brilliant wedding embellishments in Kinari Bazaar, is confident Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati's ostentatious garland of Rs 1,000 notes—worth no less than Rs 5 crore according to the Income Tax Department—originated some place in south India, although flaunting a string of crisp currency notes is largely a north-Indian custom.

Pankaj Roshanlal Jain, who last fashioned a garland worth Rs 1 lakh for a local political leader a year ago, couldn't agree more. "The way the mala is well-rounded and heavy, as though it's made of flowers, you can tell it's not from around here. Here, we make flat malas with golden paper and beads and zari," he says.

It doesn't take a Mayawati to sport a garland of glorified paper. What's a Punjabi wedding without a floral veil and a garland of money for the groom, asks Pawar Kumar Jain, of Prem Collections. And while he concedes that modern, educated families are doing away with such flamboyance, he says it is not uncommon for NRIs to bring their dollars and pounds to be turned into wearable money.

Be it for the odd "chamcha" who wishes to find favour with a neta, or for anxious fathers-in-law-to-be, these shops in Delhi's biggest wedding market will turn bundles of notes into wearable money in less than half an hour for a charge of a few hundred rupees, depending on the embellishments. The money comes in a sweeping range of denominations. "It ranges from Rs 10 to Rs 1,000, but anything above Rs 100 is rare. The number of notes, too, varies. We tell customers that 100 notes make a good-looking mala," says Pradip Jain, of Prem and Brothers, a century-old shop dealing in wedding adornments. He adds that "certain Muslims favour Rs 1,000 notes" and the garland, offered to the groom during the wedding, is often worth Rs 1 lakh-1.5 lakh.

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