Was it my beloved Laurie Colwin who noted that we spend the most time in our beds and in our shoes, so it's worth spending money on good shoes and good sheets? She went on to say that since she spent so much time in the kitchen, it was worth it to have good kitchen things as well. (Now I'm wondering if it really was Laurie who said this. When I went back to see if I could find this quote in one of the volumes of Home Cooking, I did find her saying that she thought most kitchen things should be purchased at tag sales, so maybe I'm wrong in remembering that.)
But whoever said it, I think of it often when I want to buy shoes or sheets or stuff for the kitchen (or, in my case, plants for the garden). But I'm thinking of it now because of my pajamas.
For many years (I'm not sure how many--at least 8 and perhaps 10 or more), I've been sleeping in men's kurta pajamas from India. And not actually the kurta, just the pajamas, with a t-shirt on top. They're as simple as can be--thin white cotton with a drawstring. When I was just googling kurta pajama, I found many fancy versions where, if you buy the kurta, they throw in the pajamas for free. Nobody thinks much about men's cotton pajamas. They're just there.
When I lived in Jaipur in 1999-2000, my friend Bill came to visit me. He wanted to buy a kurta pajama set, and one day when we were on MI Road, one of Jaipur's main drags, we found a tiny shop that sold them. Bill found some for himself, and for the hell of it, I bought a couple of pairs of pajama bottoms. Immediately, they became the pajama bottoms of my dreams. They fit perfectly--not too voluminous in the waist, not too long. And the cotton got softer and softer with each wearing. I wore them to shreds.
A few years later, when I was back in Jaipur, I bought a few more pairs. The man in the store remembered me--I suspect he didn't have many white, female, Hindi-speaking customers--and we had a nice chat.
Then, I made my fatal error--the last time I was in Jaipur, in 2006, I didn't buy any pajamas. Now, I can't remember why. I was only there for a few days, it's true, and I didn't have any means of transportation, and I wasn't staying near MI Road. Now, of course, I wonder why I didn't just get into a rickshaw and go to MI Road and find the pajama-wallah, but at the time, it must have seemed that I had enough pairs to last for awhile.
By the time I went back to India this past January, the pair I was wearing were starting to tear, and there was one more precious pair in the bottom drawer of my dresser. Surely, I thought, I could re-stock my supply. I didn't go to Jaipur on this trip, but Sunil and his friend Mandy went, and I figured I'd send one of them to buy me some pajamas. But even though I knew I had a card with the name and address of the shop, I hadn't brought it with me. (It was then, as it is now, sitting on my desk.) I tried to describe where the shop was, but I knew that I would only be able to find it by feel. MI Road is long and crowded and busy, and without a landmark or an address, I couldn't really expect them to go search them out. (Now, I wonder why I didn't email my housesitter to see if he could dig up the card on my desk, but, of course, hindsight is 20-20 and all that.) So, no Jaipur pajamas.
All was not lost, I told myself. Kurta pajama shops are not rare, after all. I couldn't bring myself to buy my pajamas from Fabindia, where I spent gobs of money otherwise, because they felt too thick and stiff, not the fine pliant cotton I was used to. Finally, on my very last afternoon in Delhi, I went to Bengali Market, where years ago someone I knew mentioned having bought kurta pajamas. The shop was still there, right next to Bee Kay Dyers and Dry Cleaners, and I ran in. When I asked for pajamas, the clerk attempted to show me something in the sweat pant line, and I said, no, no, men's pajamas. He took out several pairs of white pajamas, and I picked the ones that felt softest and bought two pairs. Then I ran across the street to the Bengali Sweet House and took the opportunity to eat one more batch of the chickpeas I love so much and make a special trip to eat whenever I'm in Delhi.
And I thought that was the end of my pajama saga. I would be stocked up with pajamas at least til my next trip to India, and all would be well.
Except that the new pajamas weren't quite right. They were too voluminous at the waist, and the drawstring wasn't long enough, and they were too long and dragged on the floor unless I cuffed them up. I replaced the drawstring with the one from my now tattered Jaipur pajamas, and that was a bit better, but they still weren't right. And as many times as I washed them, they didn't seem to be getting softer, and there was a bit of pilling that made me think that maybe they weren't all cotton after all. (I've never heard of such a thing--I thought all men's white pajama bottoms were automatically cotton.)
I did laundry late last night, and everything was still in the dryer when I wanted to go to bed, including the pajama bottoms. So, throwing caution to the wind (along with my need to preserve this last pair of precious pajamas), I went to the bottom drawer of the dresser and pulled out the last pair from Jaipur and put them on. Perfection. They remain the pajamas of my dreams. They fit perfectly, and the cotton is soft and fine. I never want to take them off.
I do know that there must be other perfect pajamas in India. But it may be that these Jaipur pajamas are the most perfect of all. I may not be back in India til next winter or the one after, but I trust that this pair will last awhile, and I'm already starting to plot how to re-up my supply. After 8 years of perfect pajamas, it's hard to settle for less.