ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Dance of Consumption

As consumerism alters the social fabric of India, collapsing economic and caste differences even in distant villages, consumption patterns have become difficult to decipher socio-economically.

An incident that occurred during the 2002 Durga Pujain my village – a remote habitation in north Bihar –seeps back into my consciousness time and again. That year, accompanied by her friend Swati, my sister went to see the Durga Puja festivities. These days consumer goods are easily available at village squares; not so in the past, when the country’s economy was in a transitional phase and commodities had just begun filling the rural markets. People thronged to the fair grounds in large numbers, shopping avidly for trinkets and little articles of humble flamboyance. Utmost priority went to useful household goods, but almost invariably, shopping lists also contained at least one item that delighted the eyes or appealed to the senses, so much so that, on the shopper’s return home, even the oldest female member of the household could not but help exclaim in delight. Such innocent pleasure could be derived from a rudimentary piece of decoration or a child’s simple toy. Today’s nukkad – the village square – is awash with displays of wondrous eye-catching articles that attract and tempt some, while disappointing others: “Usi ko dekh kar jeete hain, jis kafir par dam nikale”.

Anyway, to return to our duo. Swati and my sister were enjoying their visit to the fair, till Swati’s gaze fell on Mahalakshmi, the untouchable woman of Mushartoli. Stupefied, she gazed horror-struck at the woman, as if a monumental calamity had befallen her. The reason? Mahalakshmi was clad in a sari similar to one that Swati was draped in. Put off, Swati left the fair immediately. According to my sister, Swati never wore that sari ever again. Unbeknownst to her, Swati’s perplexity and shock was the result of the collapse of economic and caste differences in the wake of rising consumerism.

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