The Kinarri bazaar at Chandi Chowk is THE place to buy wedding gear. We’ve decided that if we’re going to cross half a world for a wedding we’re damn well going to show up in style. And no matter where I am in the world, a bazaar feels like home. I grew up on flea markets and swap meets and trips to Nogales, the Mexican border town about an hour and a half from where I was born. I love the stalls and the chatter, the colors and the commotion. I love getting a bargain and the shiver of recollection I’ll get when ever I use/look at/eat/drink/smell the thing I buy in the market.
We wander the Bazaar, poking our heads in and out of shops ignoring the desperate beckoning of the shopkeepers. Some follow us down the narrow alleys between stalls certain that if we would only return all our needs can be met. I wonder if that technique works on other people. Like the guys at construction site whistling and calling at women passing by. Does anyone ever stop up and say “Really?! You think I’ve a sweet hot ass and tits for days??! What are you doing for dinner handsome?”
Perhaps it will work on others, but I find myself rewarding the shop keepers who don’t call out to me by at least browsing for a while in their shop. It’s day one in India, and I’m in no rush. Lisa however, is on a mission. Solving the Sari Situation will, it seems, free her mind and spirit for the rest of the trip. Also, she wants a shop run by women. Or at least a shop with women in it, as it soon becomes clear that men sell saris, women just buy them.
The shops range from closets, stuffed floor to ceiling with bolts of brightly colored cloth surrounding a small white pad on which three men sit with shoes off, to glass door enclosed showrooms. Large (by India standards) lined with neat shelves, bright cloths and even more men with their shoes off gathered around a white padded floor.
It’s the second of these that attracts Lisa as she sees another group of women inside while we pass by. We walk down a few steps into the gallery of the shop and are encouraged to remove our shoes. I sit and take out my camera. Shopping happens like a one ring circus here. We sit and a carnival unfolds. Fabric is pulled and flung out across the floor.
It’s like one of those scenes in a movie where the attention begins to focus on the girl and the guy simply fades into the background. I fade. My attention fades, then my interest, then my will to live and still the fabric is flung across the floor. I snap back to attention around a decade later because Lisa has stood up and the robing has begun. She’s selected a gorgeous red sari with elaborate gold threading and the salesmen are showing her how to wrap it.
Now I’m entertained. The thing must be 15 feet long at least and the guys tells her to hold one end as he walks the rest around her time after time like an Egyptian preparing the Pharaoh for the next world. Sorry, I’m mixing my cultural metaphors here…
I watch the faces of the other men in the shop. There at least 8 now. A few pulling saris out and one or two making the sales pitch, an older man helps Lisa dress, and the rest sit on the side and watch. Most look bored. One or two laugh, one man in particular looks… haunted maybe?
The sari is beautiful and Lisa looks beautiful in it. I point out that red is the brides color and it might be a bit of a faux pas showing up in that sari. Like showing up at an American wedding in a white Vera wang… cocktail dress. Still, she insists that the bride says it’s all ok, so don’t worry about it.
In the end we decide it’s day one and we need to keep looking a bit. It been 9 hours and so we stop for a quick look at kortas for me. Personally I’m a little concerned showing up at a wedding dressed like a the groom, so I keep asking people what is and isn’t appropriate to wear if you’re just a guest an not the groom.
“No, thank you, I’m not getting married. No she’s not my wife. No, not my girlfriend either. No we’re just going to a wedding. I don’t know, we’re just friends. Well I’ll think about it but right bnow I’m just looking for something to wear to a wedding. Right, not my wedding.”
“So… Is this appropriate for a guest to wear or is this more something a groom might wear?”
It turns out that whatever I have in my hand, or on my body is exactly what a guest wears at a wedding. Go figure. Really? Even the turban?
I suffer from a bit of sticker shock at the first few places and I didn’t actually bring any formal wear with me, so unless I want to wear jeans and a hoodie, I’m going to need three of these buggers. What the hell, we did say we wanted to do this in style. After another hour of hunting I find a simple comfortable and cheap black Korta (by comfort wear) and a beaded blue and purple number with a little gold trim. Two down and maybe one to go.
Lisa doesn’t sleep on planes and is completely exhausted. And starting to get a bit crabby. I sleep fine wherever the hell I am and so I’m both hungry and not at all tired. I walk her back to the hotel and wander out to find a meal on my own. The great debate here of course is how upsacel and I going to go. The traveler in me says go for the low end locals fair. You can eat for nothing here! The adult in me who just turned 30 last May gets my stomach and intestines together into a political action group and puts it to a vote. We go for upscale and safer for today.
So I find a place called Metropolis Tourist Home. Really. I kept the card.
The host walks me a spiraling staircase, past the golden Ganesha fountain, through the hanging gardens of Babylon and pulls a chair out form a small white cloth table. He lights the candle bobs a slight bow and walks away. He’s followed by a succession of three other waiters taking my order, and a different man delivering each dish.
For 440 rupees (a little under 10 dollars) I have a liter of beer, garlic naan and the best chicken Tikka Masala with mint sauce I’ve ever tasted.
[My notes from the day: I wonder if the first British who came here mistook the Indian propensity for politeness as a tendency for subservience. Did they view them as nice, incompetent simpletons who need the firm white hand of guidance? Or did they just have better guns and a strong sense of manifest destiny?]