Monday, January 19, 2009
At Sarojini Nagar
So, I'm back in Delhi. I flew here on Saturday, having realized that the 25 hours we spent on the train getting to Varanasi had been enough train for me for this trip. It also turns out to have been a good thing because the fog returned Sat. night, which may have delayed things once again.
Yesterday, I made my obligatory trip to the Sarojini Nagar market, which is a big, popular market in south Delhi. There are many traditional stores there, but SN is also one of the big export reject/surplus markets, and over the years, I've found many things there. I would say that a small but significant percentage of my wardrobe is made up of Sarojini Nagar finds--sweaters, dresses, skirts. I bought a Putomayo dress there years ago that I rediscovered and ended up wearing to a wedding party this summer. In late 2001, the first time I'd ever been there in winter months, I found, on a 50 rupee fixed price table, a blue J. Crew fisherman sweater in perfect condition that I gave to Alex.
Sarojini Nagar also has great people and clothes-watching. I'm always on the lookout for the ugliest or most bizarre clothing I can find. This was the winner from last year:
What cracked me up was that moments after I took the photo, someone came over and starting asking the guy if he had it in any other sizes.
This year was a tossup. These mannequins win for multiple ugliest outfits, while the bottom outfit wins for the one I'm least likely ever to even think about buying.
There was also a large selection of tube tops:
I was sad not to be able to find this shop again:
In typical Indian fashion, the commercial and the sacred brush right against each other. There's a Durga temple right in the middle of the market, and extra clothes appeared to be stored inside the doors of the temple.
There are also lots of street vendors selling things. The pinwheel-wallah is one of my favorites, and he was there again this year. The street guys always seem to be selling things you wouldn't expect street hawkers to be selling--long flesh-colored socks and sleeping bags, for example. This year, there were a number of guys selling aprons and table mats.
This time, for the first time in the 19 years (!) I've been going to Sarojini Nagar, I came home empty handed. If I liked the color of something, the size wasn't right. If it fit, I didn't like the color. At Sarojini Nagar, I've discovered that being a Hindi-speaking foreigner has its advantages and disadvantages. Some of the shopkeepers and the boys who work in the stalls, armed with long metal pokers to remove things hung high up, tried very hard to find me things. But usually what happened was that I would say I wanted something plain, and then they would show me a plaid sweater or one with ruffles or some huge design on it.
I did come close to buying a black zip sweater at one stall, but there I encountered the first person on this trip who's been truly rude. He had a fit because I wanted to try something on (a purple sweater/jacket, over my shirt). He basically said, you're only paying 100 rupees for it, you don't get to try it on and literally tried to grab it away from me. I pointed out that the old grandmother standing behind me had tried something on, and he didn't yell at her. (I'd seen her modeling a sweater for her whole family.) Finally, a guy came from the front, asked what was going on, and said "koi baat nahii" when the guy proclaimed, outraged, that I wanted to try something on. (Koi baat nahii means, basically, no big deal.) And he gestured to me to go ahead and try it on. My concern was mostly that if I was going to schlep it home, I wanted it to fit, no matter if it cost 100 rupees or not. It didn't quite fit, it turned out, and the daughter-in-law of the old grandmother then picked it up. I suggested that she try it on.
As for me, I'd lost my taste for sweaters by that point. Luckily, my mood improved within moments, when I encountered one of my favorite group of people in India, the popcorn-wallah. He was also extremely gracious about letting me take some photos. ("Kyo nahii," he said. Why not.) And he also made me some fresh popcorn, even though there was a pile already on his cart. I won't go on and on about my love for the popcorn wallah, since I wrote about it in my Christian Science Monitor essay a couple of years ago. But suffice it to say that this was only the second popcorn wallah I've seen since I've been here, and I was very glad to see him. (Andy and I found one in Paharganj, on our first day in Delhi on Jan. 1, and that seemed like a good New Year's omen.)
He asked if I would bring him a copy of the photos, and if I were going back to Sarojini Nagar on this trip, I would. It would be worth it, both to return his kindness and to go find that store again and try some more things on.