Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Wednesday, June 4 - Sari-seeking at Spencer Plaza

We are in earnest. We are leaving India in 5 days, and Erin and Dawn still don’t have saris. The quest is on. Mani sees the determined look in our eyes, and takes us to the dreaded Spencer Plaza. It’s all we have left, and if Spencer Plaza has nothing, I don’t know where to go for saris for sensitive skin.

We headed straight for the shop where Lily bought her sari a few weeks ago, and where Erin had bought her favorite chudy-da (the shop is called Kids ‘n Kids, for the record.). The girls and I call this, “The high-quality shop,” because the clothes are just put together better and hold up better than the ones we bought at Saravana Store at T. Nagar. We bought a couple of chudy-das for Byron’s nieces, and then looked for a sari for Erin. No orange saris here, but a lavender one might work. Erin tried it on, and said it irritated her skin slightly, but that she might be able to stand it. The clerk here spoke English, so she asked Erin where the fabric bothered her, and it seemed worst at the seams. The clerk gestured to a helper, who took the sari blouse away and returned shortly with the seams trimmed back a bit. Erin tried it again, and said, “Well, I guess it might work.” It was the closest we had come to something that would work, and in fear that we wouldn’t find anything else, we bought it. The lavender color also looked lovely on Erin.

Then I mentioned to the same clerk that I would like to look at saris. Looking back, I fervently wish I had looked for a sari at T. Nagar, where the prices and variety was much better (but where the clerks did not speak English as well, and where I did not know how to begin purchasing a sari).

The Kids ‘n Kids shop was connected to a lady’s clothing shop, so the clerk directed me there. Wanting to save some money for our upcoming layover in Paris, I asked for a sari that was about 700 rupees. The clerks showed me some lovely ones that were 2000 rupees, then some that were 1000 rupees, and finally came down to the 600 rupee ones. These weren’t as lovely, and weren’t even that pretty after seeing the others, but I thought, “Oh well,” and ended up purchasing one with a floral print that I wasn’t that crazy about, but it was my favorite color (hot pink). Erin thought it was pretty.

Then I found out that when you buy a sari, you are merely buying the long, long piece of fabric that you wrap around yourself. The blouse and required slip come separately. One clerk ran off to find a matching blouse, and another brought me a slip. Then they took me into the dressing room for sari-putting-on-lessons. I felt like I was being wrapped up like a cocoon. The clerk put the sari on me again and again, per my request, as I thought I would learn through repetition. However, I became more confused each time. I frantically wrote down instructions, and she presented me with a step-by-step picture diagram, but I was still dubious about my ability to get into a sari without expert help.

About an hour later, I emerged from the shop with a slip, a blouse, a flowery-patterned sari, clutching my sheet of “how to put on a sari” directions, and three kids who were very tired of waiting around.

Deciding that we were done shopping for saris, the girls and I looked for the exit. On our way out of Spencer Plaza, Dawn spotted a sign that said, “Saris, 200 rupees.” Hmmm, I thought. That’s very cheap. If I could get another sari for that cheap, then I could have two saris for the price of a nice one. We went in.

We discovered that this shop was selling long pieces of sari fabric in plastic bags. One end of the fabric featured the part that was to be cut off and sewn into a blouse. The rest of it was the wrap-around skirt part of the sari. You could purchase these pieces of fabric and take them home to sew yourself, or take to your favorite tailor, or have them sewn for you at this very shop. Erin noticed a lovely peach and orange piece of sari fabric in a bag, and I was immediately drawn to the hot pink fabric in another bag. I pondered. I hesitated. I wondered. Erin begged, “This is what I’ve been looking for, Mama. I really want an orange sari.” I caved. “Okay,” I said.

The shopkeeper, who was an older man, said we would need to be measured so that our saris could be sewn to fit us. He asked if Erin and I would follow him, but leave Lily and Heidi to play with his female shop-keeper. Okay, I know that many of you reading our blog have expressed shock that I would leave my girls in an Indian shop and run off for awhile, but allow me to explain.

I would never leave my girls in a shop in America. I wouldn’t even leave them in one part of Wal-mart to go shopping in another part. But shops in India, at least shops in Chennai, are so unlike shopping in America, it’s like night and day.

Shopping with American children in India can be compared to taking a sweet little baby girl all dressed up in a lacy dress to church in America. That baby becomes a lady-magnet, and every lady within a mile descends upon the baby, to coo over it, ask turns to hold it, and just to stand and adore it. Every little expression on the baby’s face is fodder for the ladies to exclaim in fresh adoration, “Oh, what a sweet baby!” Now, imagine the mother of the baby saying, “Could someone watch my baby for a bit? I need to run across the street for about 10 minutes.” You can just imagine the cacophony of ladies yelling, “Pick me! Pick me!” and how eagerly they all would protectively gather around that child, guarding it, playing with it, happily just adoring it until the mother returned.

It is much the same situation for western children in Indian shops. The clerks just descended upon my girls. They surrounded them, and talked to them, and just plain adored them. Just as that baby in the midst of those church ladies would be in no danger (but rather anyone who tried to hurt the baby would be in SERIOUS danger from every one of those indignant ladies), so Erin, Lily, and Heidi couldn’t have been safer in those Indian shops. I had not one qualm about leaving them for short periods of time in the care of these adoring Indian females.

Anyhow, Lily and Heidi stayed to play with the Indian shop-keeper, while Erin and I followed the little man up to another floor in Spencer Plaza where we were to be measured for our custom-made saris. The little man led us into a tiny jewelry shop, where we found about 7 people all sitting on the floor eating lunch with their fingers from their tiffin tin lunchboxes.

After they chatted with our little man, we were told to come back in 10 minutes when they had finished lunch. The man took us around the mall, looking for silk jasmine flowers, after I had casually asked him if he knew where we could purchase some as we were returning to America soon and we were very much going to miss wearing jasmine in our hair. It turned out that this little man had worked in Spencer Plaza for 30 years, and knew just about every single clerk in the mall. They all smiled and greeted him as he walked by, and he would say a few words to many of them as we passed by.

The little man also asked me about Heidi, and said that he had a daughter who couldn’t walk. He said that she had a leg that hadn’t formed properly, and that she didn’t leave home much. He said that she was about 12 years old, and that she didn’t have much of a future. I felt very sad about that, and wished that he didn’t feel that way. I told him that Heidi could walk (she’d been riding in the stroller so he hadn’t seen that she could walk yet), and that we are very positive and certain that her future is just as bright as anyone’s. I told him that I would pray for his daughter. I’m never sure how to handle talking about prayer or God to a Hindu. But I haven’t had anyone act offended yet when I tell them I’ll pray for them.

An aside: The English-speaking clerk at Kids ‘n Kids here at Spencer Plaza had also pulled me aside and told me that she has an 8-year old daughter who can’t function. She can’t talk, or walk. She asked me about Heidi, and I said that Heidi is just fine. The lady seemed surprised at my attitude. She said her daughter never leaves the house, and rarely leaves the bedroom. I felt very sad about what seems to be a very limiting attitude towards special-needs children here.

Anyhow, we had no luck finding silk jasmine, but we returned to the jewelry shop to find lunchtime over and people ready to take our measurements. I completely forgot to ask if they could make my sari blouse much longer on my torso than normal (upon the advice of an American friend who’s been to India recently and bought a couple of saris).

We followed the little man back to the original shop to find Lily and Heidi happily conversing with the clerk, and made our way back to Mani, who probably thought we would never emerge out of the mall until he was a very old man. Actually, it’s possible that the Burke females’ delight in shopping is making Mani an old man before his time.

Upon our return to our flat, we found Mahalakshmi and Davi eager to see the saris that Erin and I had bought. They laughed at our inability to get the saris on by ourselves, and expertly helped us dress up. Mahalakshmi took one look at my sari and said, “Oh, simple sari, ma’am.” Then Chandrashake-uh said, “Oh, simple sari. Not fancy. Too bad.” Then Sahji said, “Oh, simple sari.” I think everyone is disappointed that I didn’t purchase a fancy sari, and that they strongly disapprove of the cheap one I came home with. Sigh.

Mahalakshmi wants us to take pictures of her with us in our saris. I told her that we will do that tomorrow, when Heidi is in a better mood.

The girls are all in various stages of sickness. The stomach trouble seems to have passed, but a nasty congested headcold seems to have taken hold, and there is lots of coughing and congestion. Since all three girls are asthmatic, two of them ended up having to take the dreaded but effective medicine called “Prednisone,” which knocks the asthmatic cough right out of them, but renders the girls rather impossible during the time that medicine is in their systems. I actually refer to Prednisone as “PMS in a bottle,” as that’s what it makes the kids act like while they’re taking it.

I think we caught all these sicknesses in Agra and Delhi. Was it from eating out? From the train ride? From the hotel, or perhaps from the “Dreaded Delhi Rambler”? Who knows. We concluded that we much prefer South India, where we seem to stay healthier.

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