to be edited later…
Thursday 30th part 2
Decide to buy sarees for two friends to whom I’m due birthday presents so I start checking prices in the shops on the main street. Most places sell kurtas (long, loose, typically ‘islamic style’) blouses but I’m noting prices in my diary when a young bloke (Wahid) approaches me to ask me to come and talk with his uncle. Mr Shah has seen me writing in my diary several times and is curious about what I’m writing. So I tell him it’s my diary and we talk about what I’m doing here and what he does. He runs a small shop called the Kashmiri Arts Palace, selling clothing and other textiles he buys in his native area (near Srinagar, Kashmir’s capital) and sells here.
Wahid’s interested in setting up his own business, ideally wholesaling into the export market (so that he can work on smaller margins but make more money overall). He’s not aiming to get rich but simply to make a living and raise money to benefit his home area. He also tells me about a charity which helps street-children in Goa (see http://www.childrescue.net) that he’s trying to help and of a local multi-faith inititative/conference in nearby Panchgani (see http://www.mraindia.org/) he’d like to attend. His stated dedication and philanthropy put my dilletantism to shame. I’ve agreed to look for places he might use as outlets in the UK – anyone got any ideas? I suppose it’s possible that I could order a job lot of Mr Shah and Wahid’s produce, so is anyone interested in hand-made Kashmiri shawls, sarees, pashminas, wood-carvings and carpets? Kashmiri sarees differ from ‘standard’ Indian sarees by being made of slightly heavier white cloth which is embroidered. Sometimes there’s cutwork, reminiscent of some my grandmother made in Vienna and it all looks quite special and beautiful.
Wahid and Mr Shah tell me that, contrary to my guidebook’s recommendation to avoid Kashmir, over 300,000 tourists visited last year and more are expected this year. There’s a popular ski-ing resort at Gulmarg (Ian and Jenni – want to check it out?) Wahid also begs me to understand that hardly any muslims are terrorists, contrary to the impression he fears I might have from western media. I tell him that I don’t have this attitude at all, citing the example of a couple I knew who were South African but of muslim/north Indian origin and were two of the most caring and intelligent people I’ve ever met. Wahid reckoned (and I tend to agree) that there’s just a few idiots in any faith (or other) group who spoil it for the rest of the group. Incidentally, I read in today’s Times of India that Iran now claims it doesn’t want nuclear weapons but only its ‘rightful’ civil nuclear power.
Back to saree-buying: I realize that if I’m buying sarees, I’ll also need to buy the accompanying short ‘saree-blouses’ and that these are made to measure and so I need my friends’ bust and chest measurements. Cue two immensely-silly, giggle-ridden calls to Scotland, during which one well-known joker achieves his longest-distance ever ‘mess-with-someone-elses-head’ mind-f***.
Much hilarity later, and in possession of one set of highly-classified vital statistics and basic colour/style preferences, I now know I’m shopping for one Kashmiri set and one ‘Indian’ set. I decide upon the exact Kashmiri saree, while amusing Wahid with my decision process, then hand over the measurements for the blouse and am told it will be ready in the morning.
I then go to an Indian-style saree shop and find three I like that match the intended recipients’ colour preferences. However, I don’t yet know her measurements so can’t yet buy. Later, by when the shop has closed and I’m in bed, she texts me her measurements. (I promise I’ve deleted this text!).
I recall meeting the magician again while I was having a very late meal – a gurjurati thali which contained the most delicious sauce I’ve yet tasted in India and getting upset with him when he asked to see my cellphone (I had no problem with him comparing it with his own Nokia) but then appearing to change some of my settings. I realized he wasn’t actually trying to do so and so calmed down and apologized. (I think I was more fractious than usual because of lack of sleep, clothes-buying and the occasional communication breakdown.
Friday 31st: either a lesson on India or a classic Bruce-style farce
- I check out of my hotel but ask to leave my rucsac there for a few hours. For this I’m charged 100 rupees. I’m inclined to argue but eventually realized how little this is for keeping my stuff safe.
- I return to the Indian saree shop with the measurements and am told it will take until 5pm to make up the blouse. So it looks like I’m staying here tonight because I don’t want another arrival after dark.
- An assistant takes me to a local tailor and we talk in broken English and pulverized Marathi. I watch in horror as the tailor cuts off about 1 metre of the saree material. (I realize later that this is the part that’s used to make the blouse and that the other material, whose colour we’d discussed, is used to make the petticoat that is used to hold the saree on.)
- I agree to return at 5pm and pay for the petticoat and blouse tailoring and wonder off for breakfast (Idli sambar, khala chai and pani) and of course leave an almost full 2-litre bottle of drinking water at the restaurant.
- Back at Kashmiri Arts Palace, I pick up the completed Kashmiri set. I give Wahid a wee donation towards the Goa street-children organization and ask him to recommend someone who can sew some parcels ready for posting back to the UK because there isn’t a sewer/packager at the post-office.
- Wahid takes me to the lady tailors who made the ‘Kashmiri’ saree-blouse – they run their business in their home. I’m offered chai and gurjurati bread (a deep-fried chapatti) that are very welcome as I sit on the bed in their bedroom/lounge/workshop and gurn at the wee child while the younger woman sews up my parcels and then tells me how the blouse has several rows of stitches so it can be loosened if it’s too tight. So much friendliness, I feel like Polyanna and this work cost 20 rupees (the cost of 2 litres of bottled water).
- Wahid takes me to the post office. They weigh my parcels and tell me the price to post them but that I need to get Mr Podhar, back at the main bazaar, to seal them with wax.
- So we trudge back to Mr Podhar’s stall but he’s away for lunch.
- I then ask Mr Shah about getting a room for tonight because he tells me that I’ve been paying over the odds for an off-season room. His other colleague takes me to a hotel on Mesjid Road who charge 150 rupees a night for a nicer room.
- I pay for it with a 500 rupee note but they don’t have change so, once I’ve received my receipt, I tell the receptionist that I’ll collect my rucsac and then get my change from him.
- I collect my rucsac, dump it in my room and use the blessed sit-down, flush toilet and pick up my change.
- Back to Kashmiri Arts Palace to collect the parcels I left there while hotel-swapping and then to Mr Podhar’s to get the parcels sealed.
- Back to the post-office but now I am 25 rupees short of the postage cost so leave the parcels there while I visit the ATM.
- Back to the post-office to pay the 25 rupees I owe them, then sit on the post office’s steps and write this drivel.