Posted by: Anna | February 28, 2011

Shopping in India

I have done very little shopping on this trip; we cannot buy very much because we have to carry it. However, with my friend Sarah here, we decided to do some shopping because she wasn’t going to leave India without some beautiful Indian stuff.

We started out shopping at some of the nice air-conditioned craft markets in Kochi. The first one we popped in as we were walking by, little knowing that was the way to go. If you ride in a taxi/rickshaw to the shop, the shop pays the driver a hefty commission, and passes that on to you, making everything more expensive. Sarah and I walked into the shop and were immediately intrigued by the room to the left of the entrance – the sari and tunic room. Yards and yards and yards of bright, jewel-toned, embroidered silks, which can be made into anything you want – we couldn’t get enough. We searched through at least 100 different options. The seller patiently allowed us to open and unfold package after package. We debated the most attractive color combinations, the embroidery styles, the silk qualities….Tommy rolled his eyes and wandered off.

Fortunately, at the shop they also had something Tommy loves to shop for – oriental rugs. The seller helping Tommy excitedly pulled down and unrolled with great fanfare many rugs. They looked at the back and evaluated the knots. I went back to the rug room to join Tommy, and we took off our shoes so we could appreciate the softness of the silk rugs. I found one rug that I liked, in a price range we could consider, even though when we walked in, we did not even intend to look at rugs. Tommy found one rug he liked. Not the same rug, of course. We didn’t like each others. Tommy negotiated on the price with the seller.

While we looked at rugs, Sarah started looking at scarves as gifts for family at home. Again, the seller pulled out scarf after scarf after scarf. He draped it around Sarah’s shoulders, showing her how to wear a scarf in Kochi (much like in America…there aren’t really that many ways to wear a scarf).

Sarah had seen enough scarves, and it was time to move on to jewelry. Tommy entered the more serious negotiating phase with the rug-seller, and I am so impatient with negotiating that I couldn’t stand to sit there anymore. I went with Sarah to give a second opinion on jewelry. We tried on lots of bracelets and necklaces, evaluating each one – too flashy? too plain? would I wear it? would x wear it?

Tommy completed phase one of rug negotiations and joined us in the jewelry room just as we were finishing up. Since this was the first store we had been to, we didn’t want to make our purchases yet. We decided to wait – we could always come back.

We did some sightseeing and had some lunch, then a rickshaw driver stopped and asked us if we would like a tour of the city for 50 rupees (about $1) for an hour. We were hot and sweaty, and riding instead of walking sounded pretty good. Like innocent fools, we hopped in. The rickshaw driver proceeded to drive us to innumerable shops selling the same selection of scarves, jewelry, saris, knick-knacks, and rugs we had seen in the shop we visited this morning. Let me say it does not get more interesting with repetition. We also interspersed the shops with spice markets, where they tried to sell us tea, spices, candies, and other delicacies. At least one of those had samples! We finally begged for mercy – please, just take us to our hotel. He asked us to go in one more; the shop gave him a coupon for 1/2 liter of petrol for every group he brought in. We agreed, suckers that we are. He was a nice guy, if this ploy was annoying. That shop had the funniest and most annoying rug seller – Sarah and I decided we could invent a game based on the number of times the guy said the rug was ‘special’. Finally, we escaped and demanded to be returned to our hotel.

The next morning we returned to the original shop where we started our shopping expedition. Sarah and I had fun actually selecting a sari to make into a tunic. Originally, we thought we might be able to share one piece, but we couldn’t agree on a fabric that we both loved. The seller offered to only sell Sarah a piece of what she really wanted, rather than purchasing the whole thing. Sold! I decided to wait; more opportunities for shopping would arise for me. Her silk complemented her coloring really beautifully and is demure enough to wear as regular clothing. She tried on a model tunic, decided it fit but she wanted it shorter and with the side slits sewn closed, and the fabric was whisked off to the tailor.

Next, Tommy decided to keep negotiating on his rug (day 2!), and I helped Sarah pick out scarves. Tommy and the rug seller could not agree on a price for the rug Tommy liked, and we were not able to agree on a rug we both loved, so we all moved over to jewelry (or that’s what I thought!). Tommy played on Sarah’s blackberry while Sarah and I looked at jewelry. We took turns modeling different pieces for each other, and she finally selected the ones she really liked. Tommy mentioned that he had seen a cool carved owl, which might work for Sarah’s dad (she had previously mentioned he liked owls). The seller agreed to throw that in at no extra cost, so Sarah was happy.

I did not realize that the entire time Tommy was playing on the blackberry, chatting haphazardly with the rug seller, he was actually negotiating. Finally, Tommy declared his price for the rug. As we were walking out the door, and they were wrapping up Sarah’s goodies, he agreed. But, Tommy had one last obstacle to overcome – me! I didn’t love the rug he picked out. We looked at it one more time; we decided that if we were going to buy a big piece like that, we both needed be excited. So we walked away –

Tommy told the rug seller that he couldn’t convince me. The rug seller extended his hand, smiled, and said, “It’s been fun.” Tommy smiled back, and agreed. I do not understand how the hours of arguing and laughing at each other’s proposed prices was fun – but hey, everyone has their own idea of fun. However, one of the things that has been charming about India so far is that the people, even those trying to sell you things, are actually friendly and helpful and kind. I get the feeling that there is an underlying decency even in mercenary relationships – I don’t know if this is a Southern India thing or if this extends throughout the country.

I finally got my Indian outfit in the tiny town we stayed in during our safari. Walking past a tiny tailor shop, I glanced in and noticed piles and piles of brightly colored, sparkling fabric. I asked the tailor to show me some – mostly communicated through pointing and thumbs-up – he didn’t speak English. I finally found something I could get excited about – a tunic, pants, and scarf outfit made entirely out of hot pink with gold sequins. Perfect! Not demure enough for daily wear, but eminently more fun. Standing in the shop looking at the fabric, I was inspired to host an Indian dinner party when I get home. My mind started making all kinds of plans – I need to take some cooking classes while I’m here so I can make something delicious…I should get bindis for all the girls to wear…etc. I love India!

Anyway, back to my shopping. I tried to explain what I wanted, but the tailor was trying to tell me an objection – no idea what it was. He called someone and had another tailor come to the shop to help him. That tailor spoke a little English, and was able to tell me the price ($13 for fabric and stitching) and take my measurements. He said I could come back to pick it up in 2 hours. Two hours – custom made! So fun.

Two hours later (well, 1 hour and 45 minutes later), I was back. I managed to get a picture of my tailor working on my outfit. After he finished, he cleaned up the threads that hadn’t been cut cleanly on the seams and pressed the entire outfit. He carefully folded it and handed it over. I rushed back to our hotel to try it on…it fit perfectly. I modeled it for Sarah and Tommy, and we took a silly picture of me. (I’m standing on the bed because that’s how I could see myself in the mirror in the hotel room – no full length mirror). I was not bold enough to wear it out that night to dinner, but I’m really excited about it.

Here's the tailor working on the tunic - love the color and sequins!

Here I am, looking so pink.

A few days later, we shopped one last time. Our new tunics definitely needed some accessories, and nothing could be better than bangles in India. We visited a huge market in Mysore where we located the bangle aisle – an entire aisle of tiny booths selling bangles in every wild color and sparkly combination you can imagine. We tried on lots and finally decided on some fairly simple metal bangles. I also picked up some fun bindis for the dinner party I want to host later.

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  1. I want to come to the dinner party!

  2. Love the tunic and pants-looks great on you. Glad you had such fun shopping!

  3. You look amazing, please don’t be afraid to wear it there.

  4. Anna –

    So glad you got to shop! But more importantly buy! I can just imagine the dinner party. I hope I get to be sous chef. And pink, you signature color for your outfit. Perfect. You look darling and I love India now too!

    Love, Mom

  5. What fun! I think I would have a hard time trying to decide…all the colors are so vibrant & rich! Loved reading about the houseboat trip. It sounds so beautiful & relaxing…something you both needed after that CRAZY time making your flight! Stay safe. I send my love. Kita xoxox

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