I’ve decided that I need to take further measures to assimilate into Indian culture. Moreover, I’ve been jealous of the pretty saris I see the women around me wearing. So this afternoon after church, I went shopping in downtown Kukatpally with Theresa. Our mission, to find me a dress!
As I mentioned, Theresa is very frugal. She insists that we walk everywhere, and will not allow me to hail an auto-rickshaw. The “autos” as they are called, are the Hyderabad equivalent to a taxi, except they aren’t actually cars. The are much more like golf carts or maybe even tin cans on wheels. Each auto comes fully equipped with three wheels, a bicycle horn (think Honkers from Sesame Street), and a souped up engine that resembles my dad’s lawnmower. They don’t move very quickly, but nothing does since traffic is so congested. The fare is about 10 rupees for a couple kilometes, but I’m finding when you’re American that price goes up to about 20 rupees (which is still only 40 cents). The little yellow autos whiz around like bumblebees, beeping their horns and scooping up passengers. They have so much character, they certainly don’t seem very safe, but I absolutely love them!
I tried to use all of my most convincing persuasion skills (read: whining) to get Theresa to let me grab us an auto, but alas, we walked. The exercise is good for me and all, but have I mentioned that I love the autos?
While we were walking, a small crowd of street children started to follow us. Its hard to tell if the children are following because they are begging, or because they are curious (most have never seen a white person before). Its probably a combination. They did hold out their hands asking for money, but kept calling “auntie auntie” and pointing to my shoes, my skirt and my skin. Its also very hard because they are children. I mean, we have homeless people in Cleveland, and social workers advise citizens not to give money to the homeless, but to rather donate money or time at a shelter or homeless facility. But these children don’t exactly have those kinds of options. Additionally, many street urchins in India are pimped as beggars, and they don’t keep their earnings. So supporting begging is really reinforcing this kind of abuse. I asked Theresa if we could stop at a fruit stand and buy them some food. I saw a quizzical look in her face that softened. She refused me, and explained that we would be swarmed by many more children who could potentially become unruly or even dangerous, and that they would all follow us home. That may be true: but. they. are. children. Small 5 and 6 year-olds with big brown eyes and hungry tummies. I kept walking and felt tears stinging the back of my eyes.
Theresa snapped at the children sharply, and waved them away. Eventually they disbanded, but I think about them often.
We made it to the department store, called “Taruni,” which was very exciting. This was my first shopping trip in India that involved going inside a building. When I walked into the store, I approached the desk and showed the clerk my credit card asking very slowly “Visa? Accepted?” His eyes lit up, thinking I’m sure, Woo Rich American carrying plastic! Big Sale! He said, “Yes Madam” and called over 6 (I am not exaggerating, there were 6) store attendants to help me find a dress for work.
We took the elevator upstairs to the ladies dresses and I was in awe. Indian fashion is extremely colorful and decorative. The whole room was lined with tall shelves containing piles and piles of neatly folded dresses and sari materials. The head clerk, a tall English-speaking man who was impeccably dressed with a Rico Suave hairstyle and subtly lazy eye, asked me what color I was interested in, and I answered, “something bright.”
The attending clerks pulled out a chair for me, and rapidly began unfolding dresses before me carefully gauging my reactions. I made them get a chair for Theresa, and told them I was most interested in her judgment. She was amused when they directed the fuss towards her, since I get the impression that slick people like these clerks generally treat her like a peasant. The clerk would say, “madam, this embroidery is exceptional” and I’d say, “hey Theresa, what do you think of this exceptional embroidery?” She kept laughing saying, “Regina! I don’t know, they are all nice!” I tried to get Theresa to try some dresses on with me, but if I learned anything on this trip, it would be that Theresa is a rock against my persuasion efforts.
Because it is such a hip and fashionable store,”Taruni” only sells Indian dresses called Punjabis (for the younger, more emancipated woman who likes to take steps wider than 6 inches) as opposed to tightly bound saris. I ended up purchasing one full Punjabi outfit, which included a long tunic (the dress part) which was bright blue with tiny gold pinstripes and gold beaded embroidery. Additionally, it came with little pantaloons (gotta keep those ankles covered!) that had matching blue and gold beading, and a blue chiffon shawl which also matched. The whole set cost a little over 900 rupees (or a rough $20, Theresa almost died). I also bought two additional, less ornate Punjabis (each 600 rupees) that were not part of a set: one that is a rusty red color, and the other is greenish blue.
We went to the next department store to purchase a sari. This store provided us with four clerks, none of whom spoke English, so Theresa ran the show. In essence, a sari is just a really big piece of pretty cloth. From this piece of cloth, a chunk is cut off the back and a blouse is tailored for the individual. The blouse is kind of like a sports bra with sleeves. Indian women generally sew their own blouses, but I have to see a professional tailor to make mine because 1.) I don’t know how to make this blouse and 2.) even if I could, I don’t sew. (Sunita offered to do it, but she won’t allow me to pay her, and she has enough work). The clerks pulled sari after sari from the shelves and unfolded them between two people like they were airing out a sheet. These colorful billowing fabrics were displayed for me to inspect the intricate beading patterns, which kind of reminded me of butterflies. If I didn’t seem immediately pleased, the clerks would unceremoniously drop the yards of fabric and try and capture my interest in a new pattern. It was really fun. Each sari was more beautiful than the one before it, and I had no idea how I would chose one!
Eventually Theresa and I narrowed the selection down to a green sari with blue and silver embroidery, and a red sari with gold beading. The clerks whisked me out of my chair and swirled yards of fabric around me, then he directed me towards the mirror. It was really remarkable, how quickly they transformed me from a dumbfounded observer into an Indian lady. I deliberated between the two, making a “pros” and “cons” list. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a clerk folding up a royal blue sari on the other side of the room. I pointed and said, “oh! that’s the one I want.” The clerk holding the red sari barely suppressed rolling his eyes but I could feel the exasperation.
I ended up getting the royal blue sari with silver embroidery and also a purple one with gold edging that I just sort of picked up (any of my close girlfriends will tell you that I’m something of a compulsory dress buyer). The first was about 1100 rupees, and the second was 600. I’m hoping to wear the blue one for Easter.
They are beautiful. Theresa and I dropped them off at the tailor on our walk home.