Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Shopping in India (continued from Dec 7-9)

The first place Celine took us, I didn't bring my camera. Darn! Because it was by far the most "foreign" shopping experience we had.

Nanette was interested in buying some jewelry for the girls, and possibly also some gifts if the price was reasonable. So Celine took us to one of those open-fronted shops that almost looks like a stall, very tiny. It was perhaps 12 feet across, with shelving along each side wall, so that the actual floor space was more like 8 feet across. The shelves contained knick-knack type things, carvings of elephants and camels, decorative items in wood and stone and marble, I really couldn't tell you what-all was there, because we went right past them.

These shops, which we saw in Mumbai, give you a sense of the one were were in. If you've ever been in a third-world country, you've seen them.

The stall was about twice as deep as it was wide. It was very clean. Halfway back, there was a low jewelry display case with very low stools in front of it. The three walls around the back of this area were just loaded with jewelry, some displayed hanging on the walls, some in bags and boxes. Behind the display case, sitting cross-legged on a cushion, was the proprietor.

At first we didn't pay him much attention, not wanting to spark a spate of hard-sell. He was a young man, slim, nice-looking, with longish hair. He was diplomatic, just biding his time, watching what Nanette and Celine looked at, pulling out similar items and silently placing them on the display case. I'm not much of a jewelry person, so I also watched them and admired what they admired and tried to be helpful in an unhelpful sort of way. You know. Surplus shopper, along for the ride.

Before too long, I sat on one of the stools in front of the display case, and soon Nanette joined me, looking at the items our proprietor had pulled out. By then, we had been in the store maybe 10 minutes. The young man asked us if we would like some tea, Kashmiri tea, "if you drink this tea you will never want another kind." I didn't want to be rude, but I also wasn't sure if the tea would be safe for us to drink. I turned to look at Celine and asked, "Is it Ok, because it will have been boiled?" He heard me and said, "No, no, no, I make with bottled water!" and pulled a large water bottle out to show us. So then of course we said yes, and he began to prepare the tea. He had an electric kettle of sorts, in which he had water already warmed. (There obviously was electricity in the shop.) He put the tea into a filter basket, which he plunged into the hot water. Then he asked if we would like sugar in our tea. We said yes, a little, so he showed us a quantity of what looked like rock candy to me, very large sugar crystals, and poured that in. Then, of course, we had to wait while it steeped.

He was right, the tea was delicious! He served it to us in nice china cups with saucers, very proper. As Nan and Celine pored over the offerings, he pulled out more and more until there were cloths and papers with jewlery spilling out of them piled high on the counter. He was such a pleasant young man, not at all pushy. I asked him if he had made the jewelry himself. He said that yes, he had, not all of it but most of it. He learned it from his father, who is also a jeweler. They make periodic trips to Kashmir to purchase stones and other raw materials. We learned his name is "Shine." Not sure I heard it correctly, I had him say it again. Curious.

Most of the gems in his shop were semi-precious, but he did have some beautiful precious gems, as well. The settings varied from extremely simple to quite ornate. Some of the necklaces were in the traditional India style, with loads of jewels hanging in a variety of settings from a choker-sized chain. It's hard to describe, but suffice it to say it looks like something Cinderella would have worn to the ball!

Finally my eye was caught by a large, white, opaque stone which turned out to be a polished shell. There was a tan-colored swirl in the white, and it had been set in a pretty silver setting with an open back, so you could see the back of the shell. It was quite large, perhaps half-dollar sized, and I thought immediately of a friend, Mary, who wears similar jewelry. Likewise, Nanette thought of her mother-in-law, so luckily there were two! I don't recall how much it cost. I think it was in the neighborhood of $6-8 US. We each chose one.

Later, Nanette was looking at a very pretty purple stone, again set beautifully in silver. It was oval, about the size of a nickel. It was also very reasonably priced, and Shine pulled out similar items. I saw a smoky quartz, kind of a brownish grey, that I thought would look stunning against any of the many plain black tops I own. It was the same size and cut as Nanette's purple stone, but it was in a very plain setting that didn't complement it well, to my eye. I said as much, and Shine said he could reset it for me, for about $3. Sold!

Nan bought several other items, including gifts for her daughters. We were offered more tea, and we all laughed, because it seemed when we drank tea we bought more. Shine understood our laughter and protested he didn't mean it that way. By now, we were very relaxed and enjoying our time with him, in his little store, with his gracious hospitality.

When it came time to settle up, we learned that he would need two days to reset my stone. This being Thursday, two days meant Saturday. On Saturday we were to pick up Hope, and we didn't know what time and couldn't promise that we could return to his store. We asked if there could be any chance of picking it up late Friday. No, that wouldn't be possible. Finally, he said that he would bring the stone to our hotel on Saturday. Personal service! Just try and get such a deal in a US store for a purchase that totalled in the neighborhood of $10!

So, we gave him the name of the hotel and our names, and he totalled up our purchases with, of course a bit of a discount because we had purchased several items and we wereguests in his country and it was his pleasure to ensure that we had only the most pleasant memories of India so then we would tell all our friends and they would come buy from him also. Each purchase was sacked in a cute cloth bag with gold strings to close it, and into each bag went his paper-thin business card. I sneaked a peek, and sure enough, there was his name, "Shine." I later learned that all Indian names mean something, there are no abstract names like "Jane." So Shine is probably the English translation for the word that is Shine's name.

You might be wondering whether we were concerned about giving our money to this young man who was unknown to us a short hour ago. And the answer is no. Firstly, because he seemed to be an honorable person ... but we're in a strange culture, so our instincts could be all wrong about that. So that brings us to secondly: the amount of money at risk was small. So, we departed without a concern, having enjoyed a time of connection with a handsome young man and having purchased some sweet things, and looking forward to seeing him again, hopefully, on Saturday.

As we left, I remarked to Celine that this little shop has a lot of very valuable jewelry in it, far too much to be carried home at night. I didn't see any way to close off the wall that fronted the street, although there probably was one. In New York City, they have stores like this, but they have what are basically overhead garage door-type walls that clank down and are securely locked at night. I wondered how on earth he managed to keep his inventory safe. "He might sleep there," she said. Which caused me to think then about what sort of sleeping accommodations our handsome friend had. Perhaps he hired a trusted friend/colleague to sleep there as a guard. Who knows? It's one of those little details that brings home what a very different world it is over there.

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering the equivalent of a downtown shopping mall. To be honest, it was a bit of a blur for me. The jetlag was hitting with a vengeance. Nanette and Celine didn't seem so affected by it, so I contented myself with wandering vaguely and gathering what visual impressions I could without buying anything much. I did keep an eye out for fabrics that I might enjoy having made into a punjabi outfit for myself, at some later date, and I did spot some that were lively without being so tropical looking that I wouldn't feel comfortable wearing them to a party in northern New England. But I was way too exhausted to do the purchasing, never mind the measuring and decision making about styles: gathered tight ankles? Swishy wide ankles? What neckline? How fitted the bodice? Nope, out of the realm of my possibility.

So, the visual impressions ... and why one EARTH did I not bring my camera? ... were of narrow hallways with lots of tiny storelets, with normal glass fronts on them, some goods in the doorway or out in front of the shops but most displayed inside. Lots of jewelry and knick-knacks (I want to say "chochkies" but I haven't a clue how it's spelt!), makeup and shampoo, fabrics. I especially remember one store display that had several vertical rows of fabrics, each paired with one or two compatible fabrics, so the discerning sari or punjabi buying woman could be sparked with ideas for tops and bottoms. It was there that I spotted the fabrics that I liked, and which I never saw again on any of my journeys ... so I came home punjabi-less.

Oh, well. It's a very minor tragedy, that.

You'll have to wait for another posting to find out what happened with my smoky quartz. It's another charming India vignette, I promise!
The last thing I ate or drank was heavily salted shelled edamame (yum) and ice water. (I do eat more than cereal and edamame each day ... I guess I just tend to eat them before posting!)

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