It was a hot Friday afternoon when The News Minute ventured into the North Mada street in Mylapore. The street which is host to a large number of jewellery stores was unusually crowded but not a single person was walking into the well lit shops. Instead all the action was taking place on the streets and platforms as traders displayed a variety of dolls, all painted and sculpted for this Navratri season.
The collectibles of golus (dolls kept on display during Navaratri) range from gods, cartoon characters and even household items scaled down in size. But TNM had a single minded focus for its visit on the second day of Navratri - the Amma Bommai. That's right, numerous 'golus' which are traditionally a display of dolls and figurines across Chennai this year, now sport a 'Bommai' of the late Chief Minister, nestled amongst deities.
Many shopkeepers who were asked if they sold the 'Amma bommai' had replied in the negative for the first half hour, trying to sell this reporter gigantic figurines of what seemed like lesser known Gods including 'Rajamathangi'. With a veena in hand, this doll was clearly a form of Saraswathi, only she was a pale green in colour. When we stated the purpose of our visit however, multiple sellers lamented that 'business was just not the same this year'.
Thus it was a surprise when 52-year-old Meena, who was seated under the P.S Jewellery signboard actually smiled when asked the question, despite the evident lack of Amma dolls in her display.
"I had five pieces and they all sold out immediately," she laughs.
"Well, you should have bought more of them," chastises a friend, seated next to her.
"I bought the dolls from Salem and had no idea that they will sell so well," says Meena, who took over the 'golu' business from her mother. "I should have bought some more. I sold each doll for about Rs.400," she adds. Meena was however kind enough to point us to a shop that did have the merchandise we were looking for.
And there she was. Squished between the Chhota Bheem and late chief minister MG Ramachandran figurines, her lips painted red - the Jayalalithaa bommai, would have been almost unrecognisable if not for the trademark green and maroon sarees with a white border. The dolls are made of clay and stand regally amongst the deities and cartoon characters.
"She is our bestseller," says the stall owner Umapathi, grinning. "We got fifteen pieces today and have sold all of them. Infact people come in the night and book the dolls in advance. They then show up the next morning at around 11 am and take the dolls," he adds.
The previous day, Umapathi confesses, all 15 dolls were bought by just one person. "Men from the AIADMK are constantly booking for the dolls in advance," he says, matter-of-factly. "I've already got bookings for tomorrow," he adds. The dolls which are made in Kancheepuram and Kolkata, are sold at this stall for about Rs.900 apiece and drew a lot of curious visitors. Alongside Jayalalithaa were figurines of former President Abdul Kalam, their presence only increasing the crowd at the stall.
Customers when asked about whether they would buy these dolls, however, remained hesitant.
"Navratri is about celebrating your culture not an individual," says 36-year-old Chandrasekhar, who was looking at toy vessels with his wife and daughter. "We believe in keeping only deities," he adds.
Vijayalakshmi who had come with a group of middle-aged friends from Kodambakkam was looking at baskets when TNM approached her. "We definitely can't keep such dolls on the steps because that is meant for God. But if there is a theme of sorts, it could perhaps fit in," she says, after consulting her friends.
29-year-old Priya who had come with her husband Balaji however, was eagerly scanning the road for figurines of the late Chief Minsiter. "Every year we buy a new doll and today we want one of Jayalalithaa," she says excited. "We are always looking for something new and this seems just perfect," she claims.
Umapathy meanwhile, is thrilled by his decision to buy so many dolls of the late Chief Minister. "It was a wise decision on our part. You just see next year, every shop will have them," he declares.