Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Of tailors and fabric markets

The first thing I thought when I woke up yesterday morning was: fabric bazaars! (And even better than that, fabric bazaars instead of insurance queues.)

Fabric is the first thing on my list for India, naturally, along with my tailor in the Khan Market. Before too long I was negotiating loudly with a tuk-tuk driver to take me to there.

Negotiating with these guys is easy, despite what people may think. There's a knack to it, and it involves making sure the only ride you're taken for is the one to your destination. Ask a few people what a fare to your destination should cost - someone working in a shop or at your hotel is best - and then  use that as your bargaining position with the driver.

In my case, a fare to the Khan Market should be around 60 rupees, so I laughed at the first driver when he quoted me 150. Laughed in his face! And hopped into the next one who said it would be 70-80. Remember that what is ten rupees to you (about 25 cents), may be dinner for him. And don't let the driver tell you the place you want to go is closed, that's a common ruse - then they take you to their friend's shop, where they'll get a commission if you buy something. No, the best thing to do is be firm and confident. Never let them see you might be intimidated or uncertain.

I arrived at the Khan Market safely, which is saying something considering the Delhi traffic. Lanes don't exist, traffic lights are all but ignored, and the first thing a driver will check on his vehicle is the horn. No brakes? Fine. Oil leaking everywhere? Fine. Horn busted? Completely unusable, off to the workshop!

I haven't visited the market since 2008 but it was exactly the same, and after an hour choosing shirt fabrics for My One True Love and negotiating on the price of some astonishingly emerald green linen (which I still overpaid for, but never mind - the Khan Market is the most expensive strip of retail shopping in the world apparently, so they have to make the rent somehow) - I left behind instructions for 5 business shirts for him, three summer shirts for me, a slinky top, a work suit (ha! for all that work I don't have right now!), two pairs of pants, two cotton dresses and one gorgeous silk dress. I cannot wait to pick these up in three weeks' time. And guess how much it is costing me?

Four hundred dollars. In total, fabric included. Amazing. See why I love India??

Next stop was Connaught Place, which is in many ways the major shopping district of Delhi. It's fashioned in an expanding circle, and two years ago I found a wonderful fabric shop I wanted to return to. It was easy enough to find again, which is saying something, because the entire precinct looks like a bomb site at the moment - and that's not an exaggeration - ahead of the Games in October, all the sewer pipes are being replaced and the footpaths are gone and the overhanging verandahs that used to surround the buildings have been ripped off  ... seriously, the place has been completely deconstructed, and I've no idea how they're going to finish it in time.

But there in Textile House I bought ... erm ..... um .... I bought  .... (okay, I'll whisper it) .... twenty-two metres of cotton. Ahem. I do like Indian cotton, and how can you say no when it is $1.30 a metre? I spent a grand total of $25. See that picture at the top of this post? That's my pile there.

Then off the Post Office - along a torn-up street, a death-defying cross at the intersection, over the plank of wood separating me from indescribable filth and muck in the trench below, and into this darkened little space that looked less like a post office than a broom cupboard, where I paid a very nice man two dollars to Sew Up My Parcel for me.

That's right. He sewed it into a muslin bag as the packaging. No box, no envelope - a cotton bag! He used a simple running stitch, did hospital corners, and tied it off with a flourish. Amazing. (A tip for young players - to send a parcel overseas you need to have your passport with you so they can take a photocopy. I did not know this.)

And then on the way home via the Metro, a very nice Indian boy called Vineet showed me where my stop was and pressed his phone number into my hand as I stepped off the train. So sweet!


Jennie said...

I thought you must be insane to go fabric shopping right at the start of your trip! But if half's being tailored and the other half's being posted it all makes sense. Wish I could pay someone $2 a piece to sew up all my Christmas presents!

mrs smith said...

I have pile envy.

Isabella Golightly said...


Kerry said...

Oh the memories you bring back! I love your stash and your stories. Looking forward to many more!

rabbit and the duck said...

I'm loving hearing of your adventures : ) and cannot wait to see your stash upon your return!

Fippa said...

So Jealous!! That's all I have to say right now. I'll get there one day.