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Tracing the tricolour in Sadar Bazaar

LiveMint logoLiveMint 14-08-2017 Nitin Sreedhar

New Delhi: The busy by-lanes of Sadar Bazaar in New Delhi are always bustling with street food vendors, wandering dogs and bovines alongside shops selling household goods in wholesale and the long queues of people outside them. But there is one item that outsells everything else in this congested bazaar—the Indian tricolour.

Although the tricolour is a hot commodity throughout the year at Sadar Bazaar, thanks to the demand from schools, colleges and political parties, the scene is chaotic as we inch closer to 15 August.

Although the Flag Code of India comes with a set of instructions about the size, shape and colours of the national flag, one can find the tricolour in many dimensions in Sadar Bazaar—be it a small paper flag, or flags that measure as much as 40 x 60 ft.Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

“Apart from 15 August and the Republic Day, we recently saw a lot of ‘kavarias’ (pilgrims) purchasing flags for their ‘kanvar yatra’,” says Umesh Arora of Muskan Enterprises, one of the makers and suppliers of flags in the market. “That’s their way of showing some patriotism.”

Anil Gupta of Anil Bhai Rakhi Wala holds one of the latest versions of the Indian tricolour to hit the Sadar Bazaar market. Gupta has been a flag trader for more than three decades now and recalls how the market changes in the run-up to the Independence Day. “I still remember when we celebrated our 50th Independence Day. That was one of the occasions when we saw a lot of demand for the Indian tricolour from all over the country,” says Gupta.Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

There are also specific events that have driven the demand in recent years. In 2011, for example, a combination of the ‘India Against Corruption’ movement and India winning the cricket world cup at home saw the country’s flag fluttering everywhere.

There is no fixed price range for these tricolour variants. The badges cost just 50 paise each, while you’ll have to shell out Rs50 for a flag brooch.Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

“During the Anna Hazare movement, everyone from a rickshaw puller to a Mercedes owner wanted the Indian flag,” says Saurabh Gupta of Anil Bhai Rakhi Wala, one of the oldest flag manufacturers and wholesalers in the market. His father, Anil Gupta, has been in the business for more than 35 years and has seen the market evolve in the last two decades. “There were just a handful of flag traders earlier. Now there are more than 200 sellers,” adds Anil Gupta.

The fidget spinner rage has also hit the lanes of Sadar Bazaar. The tricolour-themed spinners cost Rs200 apiece and have been selling quite well, say traders. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Most traders say if they sell, say, two flags on a normal day, they end up selling close to 100-200 flags daily in the run-up to the Independence Day. While small items like a paper flag sell for as low as 50 paise, bigger variants (a 40x60 feet flag) can cost up to Rs1 lakh. “Another popular item this year is the hair party wig in the three colours. Apart from that, tricolour keychains are also selling a lot. The party wig costs around Rs50 per piece, while the keychains cost Rs90 for a dozen,” says Neeraj Dhingra of Sindh Traders.

Traders say the implementation of goods and services tax (GST) has affected the market this year with sales down almost 30%. “Not every trader has a GST number yet,” says a trader from the Rui Mandi area of the market who did not want to be named. “So customers are buying the items in bulk from those shops where they don’t issue a bill.”

Inflatable tricolours and tricolour umbrellas are some other variants in this wholesale market. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

But even in this seemingly subdued atmosphere, customers flock to shops decorated with tricolour hats and buntings. Inflatable tricolours, stickers, umbrellas and heart-shaped balloons in saffron, white and green are just some of the many items on display.

The Flag Code of India, 2002, carries detailed instructions by the government about the shape, size and colour of the tricolour, but Sadar Bazar is replete with variants of the national flag. The flag, says the Code, has to be in the length-width ratio of 3:2 and should be made of hand-spun and hand-woven wool/cotton/silk khadi bunting, two of the rules most commonly flouted in the bylanes of Sadar Bazaar.

Over the years, Sadar Bazaar has grown from just a couple of flag traders to more than 200. Mohammad Rais, 35, is one of them. “I’ve been in this business for 12 years now. There’s a regular demand for the tricolour. Schools and colleges have many functions where they need the tricolour,” he says.Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

“You will find flags made of cotton, polyester and satin cloth,” says Anil Gupta. “Customers like to buy flags from here rather than from the Khadi centres because here, the prices are lower and there is a greater variety to choose from.”

While most of the items, especially the flags, available in the market are manufactured in Delhi, some items come from places such as Hyderabad (satin cloth), Ahmedabad (roto material), Lucknow and Kanpur. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

As I prepare to leave Anil Bhai’s shop, a customer dressed in a green kurta and white pyjama is busy inspecting a stack of flags in front of her. “Bhaiya, do you have those hanging peacocks in the tricolour design,” she asks. She’s in charge of decorating a mall in east Delhi for Independence Day. She leaves for another shop to find this elusive peacock.

But peacocks are not the hottest selling items anymore. The latest fad is tricolour fidget spinners that cost Rs200 each.

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