A successful sale
This story is set in Chennai, so I thought I’ll explain a few of the regional/Indian words used here. If I missed anything, do let me know and I’ll add it.
Anarkali is a long dress made of multiple panels and generally has quite a bit of embroidery or zari work. Amma means mother. Athai is aunt. Mama is uncle. Aadi is a month in the Tamil calendar and all clothing shops put up sales in this month. It’s sort of like Black Friday — only longer. Tirupati is a famous temple which is always full and people wait hours in line to view the idol.
“Ramesh mama’s first daughter’s husband’s niece is getting married next month. They gave the invitation yesterday. You have to come.”
“Who is that? I don’t even know her. Why should I go to her wedding?”
“Kala, don’t be difficult. You know Ramesh mama will feel bad if you don’t come.”
“But Amma, it’ll be so boring! I won’t know anyone there.”
“We can’t skip this. Stop complaining.”
“Urghh! You and weddings! It’s always the same.”
Amma giggles. “Silly girl! I’ll make it up to you. The Aadi sales are on. Let’s go and buy you a new anarkali and matching jewellery. Ok?”
“At the sale? But it’s hot outside!”
“If you don’t want a new anarkali…. You can always wear that bright green one Kavitha atthai gifted you last year.”
Kala makes vomiting noises. “No way! It has so much zari! And that colour! Yuck!”
“So, that’s decided. We’ll go today. Get ready quickly.”
“Fine. But if I melt in the sun, it’ll be your fault.”
Amma ignores Kala and walks away. Half an hour later, Amma calls out “Kala, aren’t you ready yet? We should go before it gets too crowded.”
“Uber guy is here. Come now. Otherwise I’m leaving without you.”
“Relax. I’m here. Let’s go.”
Kala and Amma get into the car.
“Take us to T Nagar please. Near Panangal Park” Amma tells the driver.
Kala and Amma get down. Kala looks around. A road - lined on either side with apparel shops. Searing sun - so bright that the sky appears almost white in the scorching glare. Multi-coloured banners fly in the hot breeze, showing models dressed in silks and the fanciest of dresses. Not even a drop of sweat mars their skin. The banners say "Look! The sales are here. Now, you too can look like a goddess, at a fraction of the price." And below those banners are an equally colourful populace, in a madding crowd, the concept of personal space eradicated, rushing to the sales. A rock concert has people standing further apart than this crowd.
The road has been cordoned off except a small part - just barely enough for two cars side by side. The vehicles are moving in a slow crawl, adding their exhaust fumes and horns to the noise and dust raised by thousands of people looking for a bargain. Occasionally, a group of people will surge between the cars, forcing them to stop, so they can cross the road. Traffic policemen shout at vehicles and pedestrians alike, trying to get the vehicles moving, prevent injuries - but there is only so much a mortal soul can do.
Kala sighs and gears herself to brave the crowd.
Kala and Amma push their way into a shop. Inside, it’s marginally cooler. The air conditioner struggles with the heat outside and the massed humanity inside but it’s fighting a loosing battle. The anarkali section is on the second floor and the queue for the lift looks as long as the Tirupati queue. They head for the stairs, pushing their way, inch by inch.
Finally, the anarkali section. Rows and rows of anarkalis, in a myriad of colours, in silk, chiffon, satin or lace, with zari, embroidery, glittering stones and way too many embellishments. And the spaces between the rows are filled with people, all hunting for that perfect dress. Harried salespersons are running around, putting dresses back, trying to answer multiple customers at a time.
“Let’s look together. I don’t want to loose you in this crowd.” says Amma.
They wade in and start pulling out anarkalis.
“No. No. No. Definitely never. This one’s hideous. Nope. Next row please. I wouldn’t be seen dead in them.”
Amma sighs and follows Kala.
“Ah! This looks okay. Hold this for me, will you? Okay, next. No again. Who designs these things? No. No. Hmm… maybe. Let’s try this one too. Okay. Next row.”
“How many more rows? Just go try them on first. It’s getting too crowded here.”
“Hrmph. You were the one who wanted to come to the sales! Just two more rows. If I have to go to that wedding…”
“Okay, okay. Don’t start. Just finish your selection quickly.”
“I’m looking as fast as I can. Here, hold these too. Interesting embroidery here. Hmm… I’ll try it. Ooh yes. And this one.”
“Are you going to buy for yourself or the whole wedding party?”
“Amma, stop being such a pain. I’m almost done. No. Not that. Okay, I’m done. Let’s go to the trial rooms.”
There’s a long queue here — ten trial rooms and what seems like a hundred people waiting in line.
“We’ll be here forever!” says Amma.
“Shh! I’m on the phone.”
A salesperson approaches Amma. “Madam, you can try out only 3 pieces at a time. We have a large crowd today, so we can’t relax that rule.”
“No problem. We’ll take only 3 inside. Kala, quickly look through and see which ones you want to try.”
“But they are so different… how will I choose?”
“Well, you could try 3. Then come back out and wait in line again and try the next 3.”
Kala looks at the line and then glares at her mother. “Absolutely perfect idea. We’ll be here for hours.”
“It’s your choice”
“Okay. Hold them up so I can see. Hmm. Now that one. No, the blue one. It’s a bit dull. Let’s discard that. Next please. I’m not sure…. I’ll decide at the end. What do you think of this one?”
“It’s okay but don’t take the pale yellow. It’ll wash you out.”
“But the embroidery is beautiful!”
“You are going to wear it, so you decide.”
“Doesn’t this come in another colour? Can you check your stock?” she asks the salesperson.
“I can look at the rows but what stock we have is out here. Because of the sale, our stock room has been emptied.”
“Don’t bother. I didn’t see anything else in the rows. Amma, help me out. Which ones do you like?”
“I like the grey, the dark blue and the brown ones best.”
“Hmmm… I think I prefer the teal to the brown.”
Kala turns to the salesperson. “I’ll try these. Can you please take the rest? Thanks.”
“The teal one is okay, I guess.”
“Trust me. I know what looks good on me. So, what was the name of the girl whose wedding we’re going to?”
“Devi. You’ve met her before. Works in a bank. Has short hair. You’ll recognise her when you see her.”
“If you say so. Look, my turn has come.”
Kala hurries into the trial room. A few minutes later she emerges in a floor length grey dress.
“You look stunning. This is definitely the one.”
“I like it. Let me try the others.”
A few more minutes later and she steps out in a flowy teal.
“I’ve changed my mind. It looks good. But not as nice as the grey.”
“I love it. It’s so unique and the material is so soft. It fits perfectly too.”
“Try the last one. Then you can decide.”
Another few minutes and Kala steps put in the dark blue anarkali.
“Does this make me look older?”
“No. But the design is a little severe. I’d take the grey if I were you.”
Kala changes and both of them exit the trial room.
“Help me, Amma. I’m confused. I like both dresses. The grey looks great but the design of the teal is so much better. What do I do?”
“Take the grey.”
“But the teal!!! It’s beautiful….”
“Just take both and let’s get out of here. It’s been 3 hours already.”
Kala breaks into a huge grin. “Good choice Amma.”
Amma mock glares at her and goes to stand in another queue — this time to pay for the purchase.
Half an hour later, Amma and Kala finally exit the shop — Kala holding on tightly to her purchase.
“Amma, we finished that so quickly, didn’t we? And the dresses were so beautiful…. Where do we go next?”
“But we’re already here and…”
Amma walks away — away from the sales, away from the crowd. A few seconds later, Kala follows.