Today I had the blouse for my new fancy lavender sari made. It takes an hour and costs 275 rupees so like seven bucks. The place looked awfully like a sweat shop to me, 8 people in a fairly small room with the old sewing machines I described in my last blog – just without the retrofitted motor.
It was the place the people at Jayalakshmi had recommended and I so just decided to assume that this was an okay place to shop. Now I am not so sure anymore but it’s hard to decide what to do: high-tail it out of there on moral grounds or give them the business? And if I leave – where would I go that is any better?
Anyway, we returned in the evening to pick it up and I tried it on – real tight and so I asked the woman about that but she told me an important lesson about saris: “if the blouse is too loose the beauty of the sari goes” she told me while removing her shawl piece and showing me how tight her blouse was. I guess I’ll have to hold my breath while I wear my new sari (when exactly I will wear it is a question that remains to be answered).
Back to Sari-Paradise
After ordering the blouse in the morning we went back to Jayalakshmi where we were basically greeted like old friends. I told them up front that I wasn’t going to buy a sari, or anything for that matter, not the tiniest little thing and asked whether I could take pictures as discussed last time. In no time five sales girls where tearing out nice saris and holding them up to show off the embroideries. All were giggling shyly but eager to have their pictures taken. I had hoped I could just kind of hang around and take some “real life pictures” but that wasn’t going to happen, instead I took portraits, with and without sari, and a few shots of saris being presented to customers or the refolding of the ones that were not selected by the customers.
Unfortunately, the light was very difficult, a mixture of daylight, neon light and incandescent light made it impossible to get the beautiful colors of the saris right. As fancy as the cameras have become, they are nowhere near as good as the human eye in adjusting for these kind of things. So I have another 250 pictures of people and made yet another promise to bring by or mail the prints. I guess I’ll keep one of these photo mini-labs busy for a day all by myself.
Day after day I am struck by how gracious, warm and friendly people are. I expected some resistance against me wanting to photograph in the store and was mentally prepared for a discussion about this and the fact that I had been promised the opportunity just a few days earlier. But I couldn’t have encountered a more friendly welcome and more cooperation if I had paid for the right to photograph.
More Friendly People Stories
Another little episode on the topic of friendly people: In the evening we happened to walk by a temple that was being decorated and so we approached and asked whether we could come in. We were waved in, given what must be the Kerala equivalent of sweet popcorn and were surrounded in no time by people who wanted to chat. I asked again about taking pictures expecting to be kicked out right then and there but was told to go ahead. The only thing, I was asked not to photograph was the inside of the shrine – now that would obviously have been the most interesting part but I complied.
And another: afterwards we had dinner and the prawns were really excellent so I asked the waiter, who had told me about the chef’s special marinade, whether the chef would possibly be willing to share the recipe with me. Now my father used to be a chef and I used to work in restaurant kitchens quite a bit when I was younger and knowing what I know about this profession I assume he’d tell me politely but in no uncertain terms that the chef would never, under no circumstances ever share his secret recipes with anyone, including Shiva or the Pope, especially some random nosey tourist. However, a minute later the chef was sitting at our table, had shoved a piece of paper and a pan in front of me and was dictating his recipe to me (he said his writing wasn’t all that great). Then he wanted to run into the kitchen to get me a sample to take home but we eventually agreed that he would keep it in the freezer and I would pick it up before I leave.
It is a rather humbling experience to encounter so much warmth and friendliness, so much openness and readiness to accept us strangers and our strange ways. The contrast is especially stark when drawn to Germany (I hate to say it but the Austrians aren’t any better, nor are the Swiss and likely a few others as well but I shouldn’t speak for them – well maybe a bit for the Austrians and Swiss), where so many people have so much compared to here and yet are forever unhappy, grumpy and bitter. It is one of my continuing sources of frustration and bewilderment when I come to Europe (even from the US) and encounter the endless litany of complaints about everything (if it was just the weather I’d understand) – I wonder how it will feel going to Europe from Kerala in two weeks. Hopefully the Spaniards are more jolly.
Anyway, we are leaving tomorrow morning for an overnight tour on a house boat in the so called backwaters of Kerala. I don’t expect Internet access there 😉 so expect a report on Wednesday night Kerala time.
Meanwhile, if any of you should want us to bring back a silk sari – just say the word, let me know how much you want to spend and what color (combination) you’d like – I have no problem going back to Jayalakshmi for another little shopping adventure.