Wednesday, January 21, 2009
It's the little things
Many big things in India don't work exactly like we're used to in the west. Electricity and water, for starters. As I write this, the power has been out for most of the morning, so I'm waiting for the generator to have been on long enough for the geyser (hot water heater) to have heated up enough water for a shower. When I was in Benares, though my hotel advertised the availability of hot water 24 hours a day, in actuality, there was only really hot water before 10 am (when the power cut out for its daily four hour power cut) and in the evening.
In the department of little things, though, India can be superb. When I lived in Varanasi, I rode a bike to get around, and one of my favorite things was my local bike-wallah. (I loved him because he was simultaneously necessary and ever present.) One day, my bike got knocked over by a car backing up, and when I went to ride it again, something was clearly wrong with it. I took it to the bike wallah on the corner, and after a minute's inspection, he discovered that one of the spokes had bent and gotten stuck in the chain. He unwound it from the chain and got it out of the way, and then oiled everything. All of that took under 5 minutes and cost me 4 rupees. I didn't take a picture of that bike-wallah, but I did wonder why there were tires hanging from this sacred tree, and it turns out it was because a bike-wallah had set up shop underneath. (You can see him in the bottom right corner, tending to a scooter tire.)
This trip, it's about fixing other things. A trusty pair of pants I've been wearing steadily for the past three years ripped, just a bit, above the knee. Sunil ordered me to take them off and bring them to the tailors who sit outside the market near his house. (I put different pants on first, of course.) The tailor stitched up my pants and fixed a broken zipper on something else. On the way to the market, we left my belt with a street corner cobbler, and when we came back, my belt had been shortened. (I'd asked for extra holes, but he took some off the other end instead.) All of that cost 12 rupees--about $.25. No wonder Sunil was horrified when I told him that I paid $10 to have a pair of pants hemmed. (The lesson there is that I probably should just learn to hem my pants myself! That or be prepared to bring a stack of things to be hemmed whenever I come.)
There was one task the market tailors wouldn't do, though. The lining of my red bag (that started as a travel bag but turned into an everyday bag) had ripped on both sides, at the seam. It was held together with safety pins. Sunil said, "If you don't get it fixed here, you'll have to throw it out." Then, I was horrified. It had not been cheap, for one thing, and I liked it for another. Then again, I liked it less when it was held together with safety pins. So, I showed it to the market tailor to see what he could do. He looked at it, shook his head and said I'd have to go to the bag wallah at INA market.
In Delhi, INA market is known as the market where you can get anything. There are produce stores and provisions shops and sari shops and luggage shops galore. There are uniform shops (advertising "Saudi uniforms available here") and housewares shops. And you can get food not readily available in regular shops in Delhi. A few years ago, I was with a friend (American) whose 20 something daughter was sick and wanted my friend to go to INA market to get marshmallows because that's what she craved. I had no idea that people ate ducks (or turkeys) here, but apparently they do.
I asked at one of the luggage shops for the person who could fix a bag, and the man told me to go to the end of that row of shops, and there was a man upstairs with a sewing machine who could fix it. When I got down to the end, I saw no place to go up, so I asked at another luggage stand, and they sent a boy to show me where a different man with a sewing machine sat. He had some bags hung up, so I knew that was his specialty. I showed him my bag, he gestured for me to take everything out, and then he set to work.
He clearly knew bags. He opened it up from the bottom, cutting and snipping at various seams. He sewed, he cut more, he readjusted, he wound more thread onto his manual sewing machine. All I could see was frayed seams and miscellaneous fluff, but he kept going. After 15 or 20 minutes, he handed the bag back to me, the seams perfectly resewn from the inside. The cost--20 rupees, about $.41 at the current exchange rate. He was slightly embarrassed, but he let me take his photo.
I was so pleased to have my bag intact again that I decided to walk for a little ways towards where I was going anyway. The result of that is that walking over the bridge by the Safdarjang Airport, I discovered where old billboards go to die:
As well as old ice cream carts:
Meanwhile, in addition to bringing everything I have here that's dry-cleanable to the drycleaners (470 rupees--$10 or so--to have a jacket, two sweaters and a shawl done), I'm making another little pile of things that need hemming or stitching or general mending. Might as well take advantage of it while I can. Soon enough I will be home, where the electricity only goes out in storms, and the water is almost always hot. But a man at a sewing machine, waiting for business from passersby, will not be sitting at the corner or in a nearby market, and that makes me a bit sad.