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Neat buys, dirt cheap
Shoppers check out the fare on the pavements of the Grand Hotel
arcade. Picture by Rashbehari Das

For every college kid on a tight budget, for every young professional trying to save a few bucks, for every mother who likes to dress her kid well and recognises a good bargain when she sees one, the street is — and has always been — the first stop.

Crowding up the pavements in areas like the Chowringhee-Park Street stretch and Gariahat are lines of hawkers offering comfortable, trendy gear at throwaway prices. What they gain in terms of money, they sometimes lose out on quality, but the young crowd doesn’t really care. They can stock up a cupboard full of clothes, with T-shirts and bermudas for as little as Rs 30 to Rs 50.

“Some of the clothes wear out really fast but then, I get a lot more in terms of variety than I would if I went for branded stuff in a showroom. Where I can get almost four tops for Rs 200, why should I spend the same amount on a single piece'” asks 20-year-old Kajal while shopping in the bylanes of Esplanade. “Even if I wear them for only a few months, I consider it good value for money,” she adds.

The collection, too, is clearly teen-targeted. T-shirts with funky motifs and pictures of rock stars go for Rs 35, bermudas and pyjamas in comfortable cottons for Rs 50, ladies tops and spaghettis between Rs 20 and 50, trendy three-quarters in denim for Rs 150, corduroy pants for Rs 130… it’s a steal out there.

Accessories — best purchased with a degree of caution — haven’t been forgotten. Chunky junk jewellery for almost half the price of what you would get at a nice store (though those with sensitive skin should be careful), snazzy sunglasses for Rs 20 to 250 (you might want them checked out by an optician), neat Gucci, Citizen, Quartz and Rolex clones for Rs 150 to 300 (don’t even kid yourself they are real).

But even the salesman has his feet firmly on the ground. “If we start selling real stuff how will people in air-conditioned showrooms survive!” chuckles one young man, dusting his precious watches.

Most of the garments, according to these enterprising businessmen, are either export rejects from Bangladesh or seconds bought from auctions at the Kidderpore dock. The new stuff generally comes from down south, where many of the cotton exports are being spun out.

Some of the shiny pieces are apparently locally made products that fail to find a market due to poor finish and downmarket cuts and styles. Rejects and seconds find more favour owing to international styles and finishes. “What do I care even if some of the items are second hand' I can always wash them before I wear them. Where else will I find these cool denim skirts for Rs 100'” asks Shaheen, shopping with her friends near Globe.

Some cuts and styles may be international, but you have to resort to your home-grown skills of hard bargaining to avoid being taken for a royal ride. The hawkers claim to operate on a “commission basis” and “rolling sales” is what they look at instead of profits per piece. Thus they give in rather quickly in the face of an aggressive shopper. It’s the poor foreign tourists they look to con easily. “When I first came to Calcutta I remember paying four times the amount for a T-shirt. I still do most of my shopping on the pavements of the Grand Hotel arcade, but now I know better!” says Australian national Dan White who has made Calcutta his home for the past couple of years. So, when they ask for Rs 50 for a shirt, you can happily try for Rs 25, depending on how hard up you are at the time!

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