Today is Sunday, October 19th, but I am going to go back and filling the blanks for the last couple of days before I arrived in Rishikesh, where I am sitting now, on the roof of New bhandari Swiss Cottage, completely at peace and with no desire to be doing this at all. I Am only wirting up this post because I have no many more interesting impressions to share with you and if I don’t write them up, later on I will not remember (even though I have a few notes) and it would be a shame. It is really hard to concentrate on the computer right now, but I will do m very best to get this all down.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

When I woke up this morning, after having breakfast, Suman asked if I wanted to go to the market with her and she said it would not be for a very long time, so I agreed. I knew it would be interesting to shopping with an Indian woman, but I never imagined all the things I would see both on this trip and the one the following day as well…the only way to really know a society and a culture, is to see it through the eyes of a local person. A tourist is never more than an observer and nothing is ever what it seems to be as it is shadowed by our own prejudices and cultural awareness. I have been through markets before in India, but never “saw” what I saw today or understood some of the things I was seeing. So, again here, just some further impressions and interesting things I saw.

We took a rickshaw (bicycle) to the local market which is close to suman’s house and where she does most of her daily shopping as well as odds and ends for her boutique business. The first place we stopped was a fabric store, nothing unusual about it, until I realized that Suman had brought with her a bagful of fabric samples and what she was doing, was buying lengths of pure white chiffon type fabric (which I realize now is what ALL Indian women do regularly) so that she could dye them the exact color of the fabric she had made shalwar – kameezes from (they are actually called “suits” here, which is much easier to write and say as well!) to be used as dupattas, the scarf that is compulsory to wear at all times with these suits. It is as much a part of the suit as the sleeves, legs, etc. An Indian woman would be “naked” without one, but I never understood how each outfit ALWAYS has either a dupatta made from

the fabric itself or one the EXACT color. How many different colors could a shop keep in stock? Well, the answer is, they buy white, go outside the shop where 2 guys are standing over aluminum vats (like a witches cauldron) with long wooden sticks, stirring fabric around in different colored boiling water. First of all, the heat is overwhelming. How they stand there all day without fainting is a mystery. And women keep coming, showing them fabric, dumping it on a table nearby and walking away. When they come back a short while later, they have a made to order dupatta. And they can make absolutely any color and hue by artistically and artfully adding little drops of different colored powders to the mixture in the vat, and matching the fabric to the original, after drying a small segment over the flame (also an art, as they cannot burn the fabric, just hole it near enough to dry it) to see what it will look like when dry. Suman had left the house in a lovely suit but the dupatta didn’t match and I didn’t understand why. After about 15 minutes, including the time to shake dry, she had a perfectly matched dupatta for her suit! I remember once in Dharamsala , Abdellah found one of these guys and had them dye a jacket of his which had gotten stained, but I never realized that the main purpose of these vats is to dye dupattas.

Next, we went up a small alleyway, which was devoted entirely to hand embroidery on pieces of fabric. There is really no wa I can describe this work. I would have taken a video if I had had my camera with me. The work is all done by young boys, I guess between about 14 up to 20, sitting on the floor in dimly lit holes in the wall, delicately embroidering and beading extremely fine pieces of fabric to be used for clothing, or decorative purposes by rich women. Some are embroidered in small areas, and in one shop a full 7 meters of sari fabric was being completely beaded and embroidered. You cannot imagine the work involved here, some of the beads being miniscule in size, and the embroidery so intricate as to make the mind swirl. It is quite amazing work and really sorr I don’t have a picture of it.

As the following day was a fast day (I will give more details later), all over the market were women having their hands intricately hennaed. Rows and rows and rows of finely dressed women and young girls in western clothing, just waiting patiently for their turn. Suman said she never does this as she does not have the patience to sit and thinks it frivolous to say the least (I realized that she thinks Indian women in general to be frivolous as I will write later) and asked if I wanted to do it, but I also would never have patience to sit quietly like that in an awkward position for so long just to have designs painted on my hands.

We then went to the BANK! Suman had to deposit some money as well as a check. First of all, she went straight to the teller…I know this is the way things work in India…Women are not expected, or even encouraged, to wait on line with men, so are automatically served first. They just need to walk to the head of the line. She deposited whatever she needed to and then went over to the self-help counter. There were forms hanging by a sting which was pulled through a hole made in the whole pile of forms and began to fill it in. No carbon copies, no chrome paper which makes copies, just a single copy. Once she filled it out, she went to another counter where there was a box of pins (!)…yes, regular straight pins used for sewing…and PINNED the check to the form and then put it into the check deposit box hanging on the wall!! Simple but efficient.

As we were leaving, suman began opening up to me and started telling how she was finally beginning to understand that the time has come for her to begin taking care of herself as well as others. She simply has no idea how to go about doing it. She reminded me of myself a number of years back, and we spoke for a short while, but she was intimidated even by her own mention of the subject, so we let it go.

She asked me if we have many markets like this in Israel. There would be no way for me to explain to her how shopping is done, what a regular street scene looks like, with orderly shops, each with its own windows and door to enter the shop, everything orderly stocked on shelves inside the shop etc. , so I simply said “no”. The only place that would come even slightly close would be Shuk Machane Yehuda in Jerusalem, or Shuk Hacarmel, Nachalat Binyamin and the area around Shenkin in TA, but even these places are only poor imitations of the sights are saw in the several neighborhood markets I visited with her.

I have lots more to write but will take a break now. Hopefully finish up tomorrow or later on this evening.

Just one thought before I go:

One of the very few Hollywood movies which is loved by Indians (this information from Shweta’s father, who loves the movies) is, of all things, “Fiddler on the Roof” with Topol. First of all, because it is just like Bollywood movies with lots of songs and dancing, because of the theme which has a lot to do with the loss of traditions, which is now happening in India, as well as the idea of arranged marriages…he particularly loved the song “Do you Love me?” and even quoted whole passages of lyrics for me and said this is completely true for him and his wife of 29 years. He found himself completely identifying with the characters in the movie. I think this is great. I didn’t realize until after I left that I had a copy of the soundtrack on my computer and could have burnt it for him. I will do it one day and mail it off to him.

More and more and more to come.

It is now Monday, October 20th, but I will continue with where I left off yesterday and hopefully get this posted later on today.

Back to shopping with Suman. After spending several interesting but very tiring hours with Suman, remember: we are not in a mall, or even on a city street where you go in and out of shops which themselves are air conditioned…we are outdoors in the market all the time, each shop just being an opening basically (the next day we went to a very fancy place….and there the shops were AC once you got inside)…I realized how much simpler it is for Western women to shop for clothing. Our clothing is far from being able to compare with the beauty and originality of the Indian women’s clothing…we all pretty much wear ready made clothes from various brand shops and all wear very close to the same thing…, while no Indian woman will be wearing something which is the same as another woman’s. (This too is not 100% true anymore…perhaps only 98% true…as women are beginning to shop in ready made Western shops so on rare occasions you may find two women with the same outfit, although I haven’t seen it yet). We, as Western women, go from shop to shop, try on clothes, see how they look and feel, decide what we want and go home . It may take time to complete the circuit of the shops and make the decisions, but it is basically a simple process. Indian women must first go and choose a fabric they like. Then they must find a tailor (most have their own favorite) and with the fabric in hand, go to her/him, decide exactly what style they would like the suit made in…what length, which fabric will be for top, which for pants, what for dupatta…what length sleeve, what style neckline and then they must decide what type of trimming they want…bric-brac, embroidery, beading, matching fabric and then place the order. When it is ready, go back for a fitting and hopefully it will be perfect, and if not, have alterations made etc. You must have a good designer, a good imagination, and good sense of design and color and know where to shop for the “raw materials”, or have a seamstress/designer like suman who will do that for you….it is a long and not simple process. As Suman commented: these women (upper-middle class) have nothing to do all day but shop, go to beauticians and cosmeticians etc. busy life!

The following day was a festival, a fast day for women in honour of their husbands, and so the couple of days before they were in and out of her shop to have new outfits designed and stitched for the festival and then had to go have their hands hennaed etc. suman again commented that Festivals are an excuse for buying new clothes, going to the beautician, buying matching jewelry etc., and in the end there is nothing sacred about them. “You curse each other all year and one day you fast!”.

While driving to this market we passed fabulous private homes and I asked Suman who lives in them. She said mainly private business men who have enough money. When I asked if they were multiple generation households, since they were VERY large, she no. Most people build these large homes and then rent out rooms or whole floors to working class families. That helps pay for the cost and upkeep of the house, gardens, servants etc. A 3 bedroom flat in one of these houses would go for 20,000 rupees a month…not cheap by any standards. Suman lives in an apartment complex and their 3 bedroom flat is about 15,000 per month.

The next day we went to a VERY up market shopping area called South Extension. Just one outdoor mall type shopping area after another. I thought Khan Market was something. This area puts Khan market to shame. Of course, getting there, we went with her car and driver, and they got lost in the maze of new roads being constructed…all kinds of clover leafs and over and underpasses….but we finally got there, only finding parking was a nightmare. In the end, we found a place to leave the car and driver and we went off on our own into the AC shops to look for further fabric for very fancies saris which Suman was designing and stitching for a customer. I saw ready made clothes, quite exquisite ones which I would have gladly bought to wear to very special occasions.., but the prices were 8000 rupees and UP! Beaded, embroidered silks, satins, brocades…the entire area was full of really classy, “trendy” women (the term used for women in Western dress…but classy western dress)…as well as those in amazing stunning designer suits and saris. There were expensive cars parked all over…Mercedes, BMW….this was like Kikar Hamedina in Tel Aviv. But it was fun. Then we went on to a different “regular” market called Lajpat Nagar not far from there, for more shopping. (I am tired just writing about all of this…you can imagine how I felt after those two days.

Now remember, this is already Friday, and Suman is fasting all day (until she sees the moon and does a special puja – ceremony – which was beautiful as well and in her case, you could really see the love between husband and wife shine through in the moonlight)…but she made sure that I would have enough to eat during the hours we were out…and this for me meant eating, for the first time in India, street food. I’ve never done this on my own as I didn’t want to take the chance of getting sick…much like I wouldn’t eat felafal or hoummous from a street vendor in certain places of Israel if I wasn’t sure it was OK. So, to my great delight, I discovered sweets to eat, and a lovely treat which I now will look for myself while out walking – corn “off” the cob. It is usually served with spicey powder, but mine was given to me in a cup with fresh butter and salt and it was absolutely delicious. Some time later, when I was hungry again, I finally got to eat something I’ve been wanting to eat since my first trip to India. (The only street food I’ve eaten until now was momos in Mcleod ganj which I new were freshly made each day by the local women). There is a sanck which is served from about 11 AM until 3 in the afternoon (or until the daily batch is finished), called Channa Masala. Masala of course means spicy and channa is chickpeas. These are cooked until soft and seasoned very similarly to hoummous, but is then served with a very spicy sauce added to it with pieces of flat bread which look very much like small, half pitas to dip it up with. Well, Suman ordered one plate for me with no Masala, it was scooped up from a large vat where it was cooking, given to me in a paper plate along with the bread, a few pieces, a napkin and a wooden spoon and I was told to find myself a place to sit nearby where scores of others were sitting and doing the same thing. Eating channa masala. Suman left me there and told me not to move until she comes back (as if I would!), and while eating, a very lovely Indian woman started up a conversation with me, and we began talking about Reiki. Very interesting and the food was divinely delicious. Although I am really not allowed to eat chickpeas at all, there were no side effects from the street food and I had a really lovely time out with Suman. Was even able to use a toilet in one of the fancier shops.

All in all, it was a real adventure spending this special time with Suman, just doing what Indian women do every day, and I enjoyed every moment of it. I wouldn’t want to do it again very soon, as I am not a big one for shopping anyway, but it was a wonderful experience for me and I am happy I was able to do it.

I will end this post here with one final comment regarding my taxi ride the next morning to Rishikesh. There was tons of traffic, the trip took longer than expected and although I usually don’t mind at all the Hindi music played by all the drivers (and I would never think to ask them to shut it off…they need to stay awake during the journey), this time I really suffered. The new music in India is the same as everywhere all over the world. Aside from the fact that it was sung in Hindi, it was pure hip hop/ rap music…and no matter what language it is sung in, I really truly do not like it. I was getting ready to ask the driver to put on some regular “old” Hindi music, when he asked me with great enthusiasm how I liked this wonderful new music from the latest movies. He was so proud of the fact that India was like the rest of the world musicwise, that I could not disappoint him and tell him how much I don’t appreciate this type of music. Don’t like it in English, in Hebrew and now don’t like it is Hindi either. Once in awhile there might be something worth hearing, but certainly not more than 5 straight hours worth!!

I will be writing again tomorrow with a funny story which happened my last 2 nites in Delhi, as well as my first few days in Rishikesh, but will end this now as it is much longer than a post should be at any rate. I doubt if many of you have gotten this far in reading it.





  1. […] Oct 16-17 – MORE IMPRESSIONS, SHOPPING AND LIFE IN INDIA The first place we stopped was a fabric store, nothing unusual about it, until I realized that Suman had brought with her a bagful of fabric samples and what she was doing, was buying lengths of pure white chiffon type fabric (which I … […]

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