By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS
NEW DELHI â€“ Launched in 1980, the â€œIndia International Trade Fairâ€ (IITF), organized by India Trade Promotion Organization (ITPO), has developed into an annual mega-event, Asiaâ€™s largest show of its kind. Annually held at Indiaâ€™s largest and only world-class exhibition complex, Pragati Maidan, 27 years of this event were celebrated this year (November 14 â€“ 27). In addition to reflecting the development of Indiaâ€™s economy and promoting the countryâ€™s intra-country and global trade exchanges, the exhibition helps foreign participants gauge an idea of the booming market here.
Interestingly, this fair has in its own way, contributed to help people of India and Pakistan come closer together. This is reflected by Pakistani stalls at IITF being a great hit with Indians. Though Pakistani chicken-clothes, spices, onyx-wares and crockery were very popular, as has been the routine, over the past few years, this yearâ€™s addition â€“ a Pakistani food-joint stood out. It was of Bundu Khan, Karachi with the menu including seekh kabab, Bihari boti, halwa and other items- all with paratha (fried bread of the sub-continent). While the exhibition opened daily at 10 00 AM, the joint began serving delicious items from 01:00 PM, with people lining up at the counter from 12 30 PM onwards. Though this joint has served earlier at other sites in the capital city, it was for the first time it had a stall at this annual fair. To a query on what did the servers feel about their appeal among the Indians, the person behind the counter pointed to the long queue at the joint and said: â€œYou can gauge for yourself, that (the long queue) is in itself the evidence.â€
Incidentally, this seemed to be only Pakistani stall with more men queuing up at it than women. Otherwise, the other stalls had primarily only women as customers, whether of spices, crockery, dress material or cosmetics. A little survey into this fact revealed that Pakistani stalls were more into selling goods demanded and needed by women customers. Dress-stalls had materials only for womenâ€™s dresses, none for men. When this question was posed to a Pakistani businessman, he replied: â€œYes, this is true. We have material only for womenâ€™s dresses.â€ â€œBut this is OK. After all, it cannot be missed a man would spend the whole day here and still remain undecided about whether he would like to purchase a dress a not whereas a woman usually takes less than an hour to buy several dress materials.â€
With women across the world still remaining in charge of household goods, it was hardly a surprise that Pakistani stalls of cosmetics â€“ including Hashmi Surma, crockery and spices (Shan and National) were crowded with largely women customers. Catering for the Indian taste, Pakistani-spice businessmen have added a new element to their spices. This was revealed by Zahid Majeed of National Foods Limited, who said: â€œNow, in addition to mutton-biryani spice, we have spice for vegetarian biryani also. In addition, keeping in mind the taste of Indian vegetarians, we have come out with many spices.â€ On whether he faced any problem linked with the old Indo-Pak hostility, he replied: â€œNo, the general opinion is that Line-of-Control (LoC) need not be treated like preparing pickles. Iska anchar nahin dalna (It should not be viewed as preparing pickle).â€
A few Pakistani businessmen were of the opinion that though this year they had more purchasers than usual, the change in timing for general public, prevented them from entering into deals with Indian businessmen. Over the years, the fair was open for business-class till 2:00 PM and from then onwards for the general public. However, this year, except for the first two days, the fair was open to public from 10:00 AM onwards. On this, Javed Iqbal of Paras Industries (melamine tableware) said: â€œThe rush of customers at all hours has prevented the usual number of businesspeople from reaching any understanding with us. It would be better to have certain hours restricted for the business class.â€
There were as many 63 Pakistani stalls, with at least one having a Pakistani Hindu, Ramu Mal, as the salesperson at a dress counter. When asked on whether his religious identity spelt any problem for him in Pakistan, he replied: â€œNone at all, Pakistan is my home.â€
With the theme as â€œProcessed Food and Agro Industries,â€ about 40 countries participated in this yearâ€™s fair, including 7,500 national and international business companies. Describing this yearâ€™s fair as a success, India Trade Promotion Organization chairperson and managing director Sheela Bhide said: â€œAccording to the feedback received from the participants of IITF, many and varied have been the success stories that have emerged out of these fairs. Repeat participation has been reflected in the fair to an extent of about 80 to 85 per cent. Apart from a large number of businessmen, 1,152 overseas delegates from 90 countries visited the fair.â€
The heavy rush of visitors at the fair is indicated by Delhi Metro recording more than 100,000 visitors daily at its Pragati Maidan station, with the maximum being on November 23, when 813,716 people used the system.