When did this stop being anything but normal?


Gurudwara Bangla Sahib on the way home from CP.

Today I finally made it over to Shankar Market to have a skirt made.

I walked into a shop with a “Ladies Tailor” sign and asked if they had knit fabrics.  No, I was told, but check one alley over at shops 27 and 28.

At Shop 27 I waited patiently while a mother and daughter discussed the finer points of their sari blouse material and then asked to see the knit fabrics.

“We have twenty colors,” the proprietor said and threw me a sample book containing exactly four.  “Where are the other colors?” I asked.

A tall, thin shop boy appeared over my shoulder and, a few gestures, a few Hindi phrases, one more back alley and a flight of stairs later I stood in front of a tumbling pile of fabrics.

I pulled out my skirt to copy and asked the attendant how many meters he thought I would need for it.  I picked out a color and asked for the price.

“225—I mean 275” was the answer.  I smiled and prepared for negotiation.  “Please?” I said.  “I’d like the best price.  225”

Another shop boy appeared and they gamely argued in Hindi over whether to give me 225 or 275.  3 minutes later we had agreed on 225 per meter– until the big boss came over.

Back down stairs I handed over my cash and asked the shopkeeper if he knew a good tailor who could handle knit fabrics.  “Shop #35.  His name is Mahreb.”

Down another alley I found a man standing out front of a two-story sari store, next to a tiny desk and an ancient sewing machine.  I pulled out my skirt, he pulled a carbon copy notepad out of the dusty wooden desk drawer.  We discussed the waistband and whether to use an interlocker or regular stitching.  He handed me a card with his number and the price on it and told me to come back Monday.

I walked back to the car feeling satisfied.  The price might not have been as low as it could have been, the skirt might turn out to be terrible but  I checked the errand off my to-do list and realized that the whole process had gone so smoothly that we still had time left for another stop before fighting traffic on the way home.

And I guess that’s when it hit me.  Three years ago I wouldn’t consider four stores, two prices and the need to solicit opinions on skirt construction from 3 different strange men to be a “smooth process.”  I would have considered it an ordeal or an adventure or possibly a hassle–had I not just given up and gone home after the first shopkeeper said he didn’t sell knits–without even asking if anyone else in the neighborhood did.

I used to think that asking questions, admitting I didn’t know something, was a sign of weakness, now I know the opposite is true.  It’s stupid not to ask questions in a place where the fastest, most productive way to get what you want is to simply ask as often and as many people as you need to get a grip on the right-ish answer.  No one can live as an island in a city as full of people as this one–and no one is expected to.

Thinking about it now, I took for granted a few months ago that, when I wanted to buy an iron, I asked my favorite vegetable wallah who asked his cousin who sells home goods who referred me to his brother who gave me a fantastic price on a great iron because so-and-so’s brother told so-and-so to do it.

I’m in the market now to rent some studio lights for a photo shoot I have coming up.  In the US this would be as simple as calling up a camera store or going online.  Here, thus far, our driver and I have scoured Old Delhi’s “photo street” and called three different places in Lajpat Nagar.  Tomorrow I’m calling a friend of a friend of our driver who once worked on the set of Eat, Pray, Love because he might know a guy who would be willing to rent at a price I can afford.

If living in China and now India has taught me nothing else it is that anything–literally anything–is possible with enough people and time involved.

By the time I set up my lights at my shoot 10 days from now there will have probably been no fewer than a dozen people tangentially involved and 10 hours of combined phone calls and driving around town to make the whole thing possible.

But I’ll (probably) have my lights.

On an unrelated note, I’ve become quite addicted to Instagram (@dani920).  I used to always wonder why mothers of children older than mine didn’t regularly travel around with their DSLR like I do/did.  Now I get it.  It’s more fun to actually get to capture the moment quickly rather than stressing out over adjusting my settings while trying to keep Will out of harm’s way.  I still take my camera out on a regular basis, but now I think I whip out my phone even more.  Hence, all of the photos in this post.

sleeping dogs

chai at INA

ombre building INA chickens


8 thoughts on “When did this stop being anything but normal?

  1. I remember going to get my first shirt and skirt made while living in Jakarta, Indonesia. It’s a wonderful, colorful, and sometimes overwhelming experience. Too much fabric to chose from. Thanks for this great post!

  2. When did this *stop* being anything but normal? Or when did it start?

    Living there sounds like a crazy adventure every day. I can imagine it. And, even hot by 10 a.m. (oh weather), I know I’d love it.

    Your pictures are stunning. You have talent. Thanks for sharing.

  3. love this story, what a great adventure. love the sample book of 4 vs. 20 he he – believe it or not, you’ll miss it one day. at least you have some idea who made your skirt, sometimes i think when we’re back in the US we just have no idea where everything came from…

  4. First, I love your instagrammed pics! Second, I know what you mean! It becomes habitual to go back and forth and not expect everything to magically or efficiently happen. Sometimes I get tired of it though. I go on R&R and remember how simple things are elsewhere, but I wouldn’t change my daily conundrums for anything!

    • THanks Ana! Isn’t it funny how the complicated can be both frustrating and interesting and the “normal” quickly feels boring?

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