Silk is serious business in the south of India; they are famous for their quality and variety. Visiting a silk shop here is a little like going over to someone’s house to play dress up, except there are multiple attendants assisting you with the dressing up. When you enter the store you are greeted by at least 2 or 3 people, one of which attaches herself to you for the duration of your shopping experience. These are always young, beautiful, uniformly sari-clad young women with a bright smile on their faces. I must admit there is a healthy competition to work with me, partially because they hire so many sales people and they have to stand around looking busy when they aren’t, but mostly they are very curious about this white lady, and even with only a little English they attempt a conversation. I tell them what I’m looking for, and off we go to various floors of the shop. Yes, there are ALWAYS several floors of shopping space in a silk shop. I would verify with pictures but most establishments have serious signs on their premises prohibiting any photos. I will include a photo from an excursion with Daughter #1 from last Christmas, who has always loved dress up, too.
My assistant begins pulling out various selections for me to reject or be attracted to, and as I decide, they watch carefully and pull another 10 or 20 items with the similar vein. I usually point to the sequins and beads and tell them I don’t like those, and then they start telling the other salespeople who are gathering, “Plain, just plain.” I want to defend my choices as sophisticated or stylish, but they don’t care, they just want to pull the stuff and then see what I will choose. Usually after 5 or 10 minutes I’ve attracted a crowd, and they are talking among themselves quite animated and laughing, no idea what about, and then one brave soul asks either “Your name, mam?” or “Coming from where, mam?” Once I tell them the U.S., they are all oohs and ahhhs, we’ve got ourselves a rare bird here! Many have probably not met a US citizen before, so I’m feeling both special and responsible for my behavior. By the time I make a selection, we are old friends, and we all wave good-bye until next time. The experience is a very pleasant upper, and it brings a different meaning to “retail therapy”. Sometimes these chatty, innocent young ladies with their eager smiles are exactly what I need. During yesterday’s trip, I was tickled under the chin like a baby as they puzzled over my skin color (yellow, or pink?) and held by the wrist to be gently pulled where I needed to go when our language skills were insufficient. While showing the crowd how one particular kurta fit, I showed one woman a button that was loose, and when she touched it, it fell off. The 5 or 6 compatriots couldn’t stand up straight for a while they were laughing so hard. Finally the perpetrator assured me, “We don’t care. It’s not ours!” I had a good laugh with them, and threw it in the reject pile. Off they flew to see if there was a replacement.