My India adventure is off to a grand start! After a very long (27 hour) but thankfully uneventful journey, we landed at the Chennai airport. A friend-of-a-friend connection had fortuitously led us to make arrangements with Sashi, a beautiful and gracious young woman, who met us at the airport. Sashi took us to her family home, where we met her parents and brother, and fed us a delicious breakfast of freshly made dosas. After a much needed and regenerative nap, she picked us up at the hotel and took us out and about in her Mylapore neighborhood. We were honored to be invited to accompany her to the Kapaleeshwarar Temple, where she regularly worships. The temple complex is ancient, and very beautiful. Photos are not allowed inside the temple, but even if they were I would have been hesitant to take any, out of respect to the celebrants. It was a very moving and meaningful experience to observe the rites, and to participate in the ones open to those not of the Hindu faith.
And that big bag I’m holding in the picture above? Yep, it’s full of silk. Sashi knew the best place to shop, and thanks to her I discovered a new category of silk to purchase. It’s a sort of do-it-yourself shalwar kameez kit. There’s a length of fabric, already embroidered, to be made into the tunic by your tailor, another one for the pants, and a length dyed to match chiffon for the scarf. The scarfs in these sets are poly, but the rest is glorious silk. I somehow managed to stop myself at only four sets:
I think these are going to be enormously useful in the studio, once I muster the courage to cut into them, as I will have the embroidered bits to work with. They are of a medium weight silk. I also purchased some meter lengths of finer shot silk:
Aren’t they gorgeous? And so much fun to purchase--here’s how it works in a shop in India. There was a general floor manager, who inquired as to what I wanted, and directed me to the manager for the “fine silks”. He pulled bolts from behind the counter for me to look at, gave them poetic names (the one on the left he called “sunset”), and made further suggestions. As I made my selections, he passed the bolts to two underlings, and supervised as they measured, made the cuts, and wrote and affixed the small labels.
We then proceeded to the sales counter, where Sales Clerk 1 entered all the information from the labels and printed up an invoice for my inspection. I approved it, handed it to Sales Clerk 2, who reviewed it and handed it to Sales Clerk 3. Sales Clerk 3 reviewed the invoice, swiped my credit card, and handed the invoice and credit receipt back to Clerk 2, who had me sign them both, and gave me my copies. I then handed the invoice back to to Sales Clerk 1, who reviewed all the paperwork and the labels one more time, packaged everything up, and gave it to me. That makes 7 people involved in this one purchase, and doesn’t count the doorman, the elevator attendant, and the 3 or 4 clerks who helped me purchase the kits on another floor.
I appreciate the terrific and attentive customer service, and it makes shopping an interactive experience. On the other hand, as a modern westernized woman, I am used to parking in automated self service garages, walking through automatic doorways or opening doors myself, picking out my groceries and consumer goods on my own, and paying at self-service scanners. It’s one of those unexpected bits of cultural differences that are mildly unsettling at first, but quickly become habit. After only a few days in India, I am now swanning through doorways everywhere without the slightest expectation of having to deal with them myself.
Another big cultural difference is the approach to driving. I live in the suburbs, and take it as a matter of course that I will drive myself to wherever I need to go. In Chennai, Sashi’s family’s driver took us about town and to our next destination (many, many thanks!), and I have been and will continue to hire drivers for any other expeditions. Driving in India is not for the faint of heart or inexperienced. Lanes, signs, and signals seem to be regarded as mere suggestions, to be followed, or not, as whim and circumstance dictate. The road is shared by lorries, autos, auto-rickshaws, bike rickshaws, bicyclists, pedestrians, and the ubiquitous scooters, many carrying the entire family of father, mother, and one or two small children. Occasionally there is a cow, goat, or water buffalo. There is a lot of horn honking, and for the most part it all works out. Once you get over your amazement, it is fascinating to watch. Travel is very broadening!
An editorial note: When I started this blog years ago, I decided to focus on art, the inspiration that leads to the art, and the travel that nourishes it. I wanted to keep a professional tone, and for the most part have left out personal references. I do have a family, a wonderful one, that includes my fabulous and incredibly supportive husband who I often travel with, my two adult daughters and their respective spouses, and my young grandson, who I can assure you is incredibly cute and talented. I’ve chosen not to include them in the blog, partly because of relevance, but also because the have their own lives, both personal and digital, and are fully capable of representing themselves as they see fit.
But blogs evolve, and I’ve reached a point where I am making an exception to my policy. My daughter Alice is a major part of my India jaunt; she is travelling here on business and invited me to join her on the trip. I am fortunate to be sharing this experience with her, and as we are posing for a lot of pictures together it seems appropriate to include her. You’ll be seeing more of both of us in the days to come!