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I don’t think even I have understood my mother as well as the proprietor of Payal Fancy Store has.

Everyone—or at least, every Bangalorean woman, her friends and relatives—has encountered the Fancy Store owner. He’s usually wheat-skinned and looks perpetually in his late 20s, with a wisp of a moustache, a twinkling stud in his ear, and fingernails coloured deep orange from continued application of henna. His negotiating tactics are a study in the fine art of persuasion, delivered in a lilting Kannada whose unfamiliar intonations betray his Marwari roots.

His strangely accented Kannada cannot conceal his pride in the fact that his Fancy Store is a well-stocked trove of unexpected surprises and delights for Bangalore’s women.

The Fancy Store, with names like Lakshmi, Kajal, Karishma and Modern—names nobody actually pays attention to or remembers—has been designed to cater to every middle-class female need and vanity, and to pander to every Bangalorean woman’s aspirations of being an active yet sensible participant in the vicissitudes of fashion.

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Bargaining at a Fancy shop

Technicolour nail lacquers from chic fashion journals find imitations in the Fancy Store’s humble glass display. Gun-metal jewels inspired by famous designers or reigning sensibilities sit pinned to folded pieces of plastic, accompanied by paper bits announcing single or low double-digit price points. Elastic, safety pins, buttons, electronic razors, sanitary napkins, bangles, cones of mehndi—everything that belongs in a woman’s closet or on a dressing table—is available here. Saw an absurdly expensive innovation (say, that rainbow-coloured static duster) on teleshopping? Well, guess where you’d find its replica for one-tenth the price?

Chronologically, the Fancy Store pre-dates the supermarket, and is distinctly different from the latter in one very important aspect. The supermarket is where the Bangalorean woman plays her role as wife or mother, but at the Fancy Store, she is woman first. To not let anything get in the way of her shopping sprees here, the Fancy Store also stocks plastic cricket bats, coloured balls of all sizes, action figures and carrom boards, all to appease young boys who might get in the way of their mothers’ and sisters’ indulgences.

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Bottles of nail polish

And what savvy middle-class woman doesn’t want one-upmanship over mercilessly priced big brands whose costs soar ever higher as malls pack Bangalore’s spaces and skylines? No wonder the Fancy Store stocks bootlegged versions of products from Jergens, Bath & Body Works, and MAC, among others. The supply chain remains murky because one never finds multiples of the same product, so if you decide to come back to buy another bottle of that vanilla body wash you took home the other day, you may never ever find it anywhere again. Fancy Stores also often resort to some adroit rechristening; Beebok, Adibas and Upma are all brands I have found in the Fancy Stores I frequent.

And yet, the Fancy Store invokes much affection, and not entirely because of nostalgia. Walking into such a place gives one a humbler, sharper perspective of money, a more basic articulation of our desires, and a more open, honest admission that we think self-worth indeed lies in the things we buy.

*****

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Hair clips

If Morocco’s charm and essence are in its souks teeming with exotic meats and spices, Bangalore’s romance, mystery, and very smell, is in the gandhige angadis in its old neighbourhoods of Basavanagudi, Chamarajpet, Malleswaram, Jayanagar, and their ilk. Here, piles of turmeric, vermillion and multicoloured rangoli are heaped on to plates, amid garlands of plastic flowers, strings of tinsel, and cotton wicks. Small plastic frames and effigies of all kinds of deities (usually season-dependent) await prayers. The air of the angadi smells of something pious and ethereal, with distinct accents of ash, camphor, arecanut, cinnamon and sandalwood.

‘Toranas’ used for decoration
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‘Toranas’ used for decoration

The gandhige angadi has gone a step ahead of the Fancy Store in understanding its market, and has segmented its clientele into two categories: the “modern" women who spend a limited amount of time in the puja room, and the pious women who attempt to maximize their time with their favoured deities, even as they balance such demands with those of bawling children, crazy work schedules and household chores.

For the former’s benefit, the gandhige angadis offer stickers of pre-drawn kolams, rolled cotton wicks, ready-made sacred threads, premixed orange rice—paraphernalia that lets the busy woman get her prayer-fix with minimum effort. But these ready-made conveniences are also those that the latter segment of women turn their noses up at with a scorn usually reserved for any coffee that wasn’t born of a coffee filter. These women are also likely to consult the almanac (or the Panchanga), naturally exclusively available at the angadi, to advise you about the auspicious days to start at your new job.

Sometimes, when I receive the occasional customized postcard from erstwhile Bangalorean relatives abroad, I can spot within the family photographs either a green or gold torana, or a pair of brass diyas, or a small photo frame with Hanuman carrying a mountain of stories.

I then know that they may have left Bangalore, but they’ve taken a bit of the city with them.

TRIP PLANNER | BANGALORE, KARNATAKA

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Bangalore is well-connected by air, train and road.

STAY

Bangalore offers accommodation options in all budgets, starting from200 for lodges in the Majestic Area.

DO

Take a BMTC bus to the Ramakrishna Ashram at Basavanagudi, and walk up to DVG Road, Gandhi Bazaar. The city’s Bangalore Development Authority complexes house Fancy Shops and ‘gandhige angadis’. So do market areas in neighbourhoods like Banashankari, Chamarajpet and Malleswaram. Bangalore also has good connectivity by auto. A great time to visit the city is around festivals like Sankranti, Ganesha Habba and Diwali. The shops are filled with festival supplies and ‘puja’ material, making them look even more colourful than usual. There are plenty of photo opportunities.

EAT

Sample the city’s ‘dosas’ and filter coffee. Try the Mahalakshmi Tiffin Room (DVG Road, Gandhi Bazaar) and Hotel Dwaraka (NR Colony).

Amulya Shruthi is trying to be a professional describer of feelings. She lives in Bangalore.

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