Sunday, January 22, 2012

Shopping in India

My latest trip to India passed in a dream. I will write more of it for Namarupa, and hopefully more vignettes will follow in this blog. It is really impossible to capture or even try to describe the sensory overload that is India.

Amongst other places we visited was Puducherry (formerly known as Pondicherry.) Cyclone Thane had passed through before we arrived, uprooting trees, destroying roads and communications, wiping out villages. The area in and around Auroville was damaged very badly.

We eventually arrived in Puducherry after a long bus ride delayed even further by a sit down strike on the bridge, stopping all traffic. The strike was instigated by workers who had not received compensation for cyclone damage.

The area of Puducherry around the Sri Aurobindo Ashram is reminiscent of the French Quarter of New Orleans (thankfully without Bourbon Street.) It is elegant and gracious - wide, almost clean streets, beautiful French colonial buildings. Lush trees lining the streets and form overhead canopies.

After our visit to the Ashram and Temple we had time for that most spiritual of activities, shopping. I was told of a Kadhi Shop (The Kadhi textiles are the industry begun by Mahatma Ghandhi, and not the shop where Ghandi went shopping, as one of our crowd informed her husband in Michigan. ) They are a wonderful homespun cotton and prices are fixed.  I wanted to buy something for my nephews.

An Indian 'guide' accompanied some of us along bustling Nehru avenue, no longer reminiscent of the French quarter. Narrow dusty streets lined with crammed shops and stalls. We arrived at the designated shop and everyone dispersed into the narrow, crowded interior, on either side of which textiles and clothing were piled to the ceiling. Behind a counter sat about 10 men, if not more, all their heads wagging as we asked questions.

Behind one of the men I spotted plain medium sized short sleeved shirts and pointed to them. One of the men removed them from the pile and from their cellophane bags. He displayed them on a crowded counter top. Inside the shop the heat and humidity were getting to me, I wanted to leave so I wagged my head in approval of these two shirts. Another man refolded them and replaced them into their cellophane bags. He handed these to another man who wrote the  prices on a piece of paper. This man handed them to another man who added the totals and handed them to a man at a cash register. I paid the amount and yet another man handed me the parcels along with a receipt, (and apparently, a blessing.) Finally, another man handed me my change.

"How many Indians does it take to buy a shirt?"

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