Vibrant return

Fitting fun: Kavina Joyce Jayarkumar, 27, picking out bangles for her daughter at the Deepavali bazaar along Jalan Ungku Puan in Johor Baru city centre. — THOMAS YONG/The Star

AFTER a year’s hiatus, the Deepavali bazaar in Johor Baru’s Little India has returned, much to the delight of both visitors and traders.

A visit by StarMetro to the bazaar located along Jalan Ungku Puan found many people shopping in preparations for the Festival of Lights that falls on Nov 4.

This year’s Deepavali will be an extra special one for C. Thanaletchmy after being apart from her family for about two years.

The 21-year-old, who works at a factory in Singapore, said she was unable to return to her hometown in Yong Peng, Johor, during the festive season last year because of the border closure.

“I remember spending Deepavali alone in my room across the country’s border and missing my family.

“Luckily, I managed to get leave this year and returned to Johor about two weeks ago.

“I am very happy to be able to celebrate Deepavali with my family this time round,” she said.

Thanaletchmy will be returning to Singapore next month and will have to undergo quarantine there.

Her family made the two-hour trip from Yong Peng to Johor Baru to do their Deepavali shopping at the bazaar, where they purchased traditional snacks, biscuits, costume jewellery and decorations for the home.

Happy to be back

Businessman G. Santha brought his wife and two children to the bazaar to shop and soak up the festive atmosphere.

“After being at home for so long, I thought it would be nice to bring them for a family outing.

“Last year, there were no Deepavali bazaars as the Covid-19 situation was quite bad.

“I am glad that we can now go out and do most of our shopping in one place.

“I have come here early to avoid the crowd as the pandemic is not over yet,” said the 45-year-old.

He noted that bazaar-goers were adhering to the standard operating procedure.

Homemaker Kavina Joyce Jayarkumar, who came with her two-year-old daughter and younger brother, said she was excited to visit the bazaar although there were fewer traders this year.

“I wanted my daughter to enjoy the bright and colourful lights as well as the lively music.

“I bought some bangles and anklets for my daughter.

“She was excited to get a henna design drawn on her hand,” said Kavina, who also runs an online business.

She said this year’s Deepavali would be another quiet affair as her husband, who works in Singapore, was unable to return home for the occasion.

“I will be celebrating the festival with my in-laws but I know it will be incomplete without my husband,” she added.

Clerk Salimah Mohamad, 35, took the opportunity to visit the bazaar while waiting for her husband who had a dental appointment in Galleria@Kotaraya nearby.

The mother of two said she had visited the bazaar in Little India before and that this year’s set-up was smaller compared to pre-pandemic times.

“Although there was a light drizzle, I enjoyed looking at the wide selection of biscuits, apparel and colourful displays,” said Salimah.

Welcome opportunity to trade

Deepavali traders interviewed by StarMetro were grateful for the opportunity to get more customers before the festival.

Biscuit seller V. Sumathy, 46, said her regulars had continued to support her business amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

She said more than half of her customers previously were from Singapore.

“The crowd is significantly smaller this year but I am happy my local customers have returned to buy my biscuits.

“Popular items include chocolate tarts, Mexico brownies, royal almond and pineapple tarts made with fruit from Sarawak, aside from Deepavali staples such as muruku and other traditional snacks.

“The prices range from RM20 to RM35 as I do not want to increase them too much, even though the cost of raw materials has gone up.

“As traders, we have to understand that the customers’ purchasing power has dropped because of Covid-19,” said Sumathy, who has been selling biscuits for around two decades.

Part-time henna artist Ramya Devi, 30, said business had been slow as the Covid-19 threat was still around.

“I usually draw freestyle, according to my customer’s budget and preference,” said Ramya, who is also a telemarketer.

She said business would usually pick up nearer to Deepavali as customers wanted their henna designs to look fresh and vivid for the occasion.

“If the designs are drawn too early, the henna colour will fade and not look as beautiful.

“Previously, I would have up to 200 customers on the eve of Deepavali.

“I will be happy if I can get 50 customers this year.”

Sundry shop owner A. Ardiraja decided to participate in the bazaar and sell Deepavali decorations.

He said the bazaar had helped to bring the crowd back to the city centre, which had been quiet since the pandemic started last year.

“This area used to be packed with locals and tourists from Singapore before the pandemic.

“Many customers told me they were happy that the Deepavali bazaar was allowed to operate this year, because it had helped add to the festive spirit.”

However, Ardiraja said sales at his stall was slow as most customers were looking for baking ingredients, prayer items and festive biscuits.

Johor Baru Little India Cultural Association chairman Datuk N. Nilaraja said this year’s bazaar was scaled down to 30 stalls, from some 50 stalls in previous years, to comply with the SOP.

“In previous years, there were four associations involved in organising the bazaar. But this year, only our association is participating.

“The bazaar started on Oct 13 and will continue until the eve of Deepavali on Nov 3.

“Response has been good as it is the only major outdoor Deepavali bazaar in the area,” he said, adding that there were no live performances unlike previous years.

Nilaraja thanked Johor Baru mayor Datuk Noorazam Osman for allowing the bazaar to operate this year.

He said there were 10 Rela personnel on duty at entry and exit points to monitor SOP compliance and manage the crowd.

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