A word that succinctly describes what I feel when I look at these photos, taken by Dave in northern India last July.
This afternoon we stopped by Brickfields (a 'Little India' in Kuala Lumpur) to check out the Deepvali market. Aiyo! (That's a Chinese term but I don't know the equivalent in Hindi or Tamil. Readers?) The market is a sad shadow of what it was during first Deepvali season we passed in KL, four years ago.
It's so much smaller. In 2005 the market sprawled over the walkway between KL Sentral Station and the Brickfields Monorail Station; there were sweets sellers and a biryani vendor all the way from India and fresh roti being flipped and chapati being patted and laid atop griddles.
At the other end of the market, further up Jalan Tun Sambanthan in the direction opposite to Chinatown, you could buy five or six different varieties of wonderful handmade pappadum and delicious kulfi in flavors like saffron and pistachio, both shipped in for the occasion from India.
In 2005 the Deepvali Market was packed from afternoon to evening with happy shoppers and eaters. It really felt like a festive season was upon us.
The next year the biryani and other interesting eats vendors behind KL Sentral were gone. The next year, nothing at all food-ish was sold in the KL Sentra-Monorail walkway.
By last year the Tun Sambanthan stretch of the market had lost much of its character. Many small vendors had been replaced by stalls selling same-same cookies and savories packed in big plastic jars ridiculously labelled 'homemade'. At least we still had our opulent Punjabi sweets, made by a talented cook from Pakistan.
Alas, this year he's gone too. There is one stall run by a couple of youngish guys selling what look to be homemade sweets. A few are excellent, especially the 'milk cake', a moist, crumbly milk sweet that tastes a lot like caramel, and a chocolate-y sweet that, in a weirdly palatable way, tastes alot like Carnation Breakfast Bars.
But all in all the Brickfields Deepvali Market just ain't what it used to be.
We've no idea if this is down to the sluggish economy, or if City Hall's determined to 'clean up' (read: homogenize and dullify) markets in general. But it is sad to see the lead-up to what is such an important holiday for Malaysian Indians become so toned down.
While some concern themselves with staking a claim on nasi lemak and Hainan chicken rice in the name of national pride real, live Malaysian culinary traditions are disappearing right in front of us.
All I can do is look at these photos and envy Dave for his opportunity to enjoy Indian sweets, in India, on a daily basis. And I think it's time to consider an India excursion to coincide with Deepvali 2010.