Sunday, 7 February 2016

Saratha's and saris

We arrived in India around 3pm on the Saturday afternoon, Trichy-time. One of the first things we did was head to the textile shop, because one of my travelling companions is being consecrated as a bishop later this month and wanted some clerical shirts made in Bishop Purple (if that's not an official colour, like emerald green or sky blue, it should be!), while my other companion is a curate and needed clerical shirts in black. (Plus he'd bought a shirt order from another vicar too!)

So, off to Saratha's in Trichy we went...

On foot, we negotiated oncoming tuctucs, two-wheelers, cars, carts and pedestrians in the narrow market street to reach the 1.5 million square feet complex. Started in Trichy in 1969, it claims to be the largest textile showroom in India, with a huge range of fabrics and ready-made clothing.

What an experience! It took some considerable time to find the right shade of Bishop Purple. "Too pink. Too bluey. Too purpley." Yes, really...Bishop Purple is actually a sort of pinky-purple that nudges towards cerise, but isn't. A bit like this:

Anyhow, suffice to say that finding black was a lot easier - though there are actually a lot of different shades of black. And white, which I'd never appreciated before.

The next step was a churithar suit, for me. Oh...boyoboyoboy!

Now, you know when you walk into a UK clothes shop, and there's just THE colour, for that season? And the shop has nothing except that colour in it? (It's a revolting mess of mucky green and grey and black and camel for this spring, it seems). And nine times out of ten, you can guarantee it's not a colour that suits you?

Well, in Saratha's churithar department, there's none of that. You need to know your size - I'm apparently a 40, which sounded huge for my petite frame but did fit; I tried a top on, much to the interest of shop assistants and customers because I took off my shirt and was wearing a vest top under, thus exposing shoulders and cleavage (what little I have) which is NOT the done thing in India.

Then you choose your colour. Simply go to the shelf or rack with that size on it, and the assistants pull out pile upon pile of folded suits, spreading them out for you to take your pick of the myriad colours available. It was like being in a candy store. Contrasting colours, toning colours, pastels, brights, glitter, embroidery...I could've spent hours there, drinking it all in.

Ready-made churithar choices...

More choice if you want to make them yourself...

The devil's in the detail...
The one I finally chose was pink with brown embroidery, brown trousers and a pink-printed brown scarf. It was sleeveless, and I asked about getting one with sleeves - what I didn't realise is that the sleeves are never attached. It's up to you to get them sewn in if you want to.

A rather bad selfie...

Embroidery detail around the hem

When you've decided on your purchase, there's none of this wandering around, stuffing it and other items into a mesh bag to go to the tills at the end of your visit. Oh no. One of the (thousands, I'm certain of it!) shop assistants is called over, given the item that you wish to purchase, then you follow him - and it's always a man, the only female assistants we saw were on the bra counter - to the cash desk, where the process of paying begins.

Paying in Saratha's - a step-by-step guide.
1. Assistant hands item(s) to till man no.1.
2. Till man 1 asks if you are paying cash or credit.
3. You hand over your money or card.
4. Item and money are given to the cashier. He sorts out your change. AT THE SAME TIME, you are given a receipt by till man no.1 to say how much your purchases were and that you've handed some money over.
5. You move along a line, trying to keep tabs on your item(s) and hand over your receipt to till man no.2 to show you've paid.
6. Till man no. 2 (or 3, I rather lost track) gives you back your change, your stamped receipt and your purchase in a Saratha's bag.
7. Repeat as often as necessary, depending on how many different departments or counters you make a purchase from...

If you want to see how fast these guys work, take a look at this video clip...Cashiers! 

On the Sunday evening, we went back again - this time to look at gold fabric for other bishop-y accessories (we nearly had a disco-bish when we were shown gold-sequinned lace...!) and to purchase a sari - for me, not the almost-bish - because we were going back to Pudukkottai village on the Monday and Sarah, Reverend Benjamin's wife, had agreed to dress me in a sari for our visit to the school.

I chose a rather beautiful pink and gold silk one, because the Women's Fellowship in the village wear a uniform sari of pink and gold; mine didn't exactly match, but it would be a link. Then we headed off to buy a ready-made sari blouse and petticoat. The gentleman on the counter took one look at me, said "34" and found the right shade of pink to match the embroidery.

Sari bling...

Now - I digress a little from the Saratha's experience here, but if ever you buy a sari for yourself, be aware that most of them come with a blouse bit. This is an extra length on the material which is cut off to make a matching blouse. Except I didn't know that, so poor Sarah had her work cut out when she was trying to use up an extra metre or so of fabric in the draping when she dressed me.

Back to Saratha's...

We had a rest day later in the week, and N and I planned a shopping trip, to buy gifts for our families. Clothing is cheap and there is such a wide choice we headed back to Saratha's again. Another visit to the churithar suit counter, but for N's wife this time; I'd enjoyed wearing the pink sari so much, I decided to buy a second, lighter one. This time, we were accompanied by two teachers from Bishop Heber Secondary School, Shineo and Josephine, who helped us with our purchases. And this time, I had my camera...

Now, there was so much choice, I could have spent hours and hours choosing. In fact, this must've been the norm, as we saw families sitting on the floor in the shop eating lunch, they'd been there so long...
Look to the left, where folk are taking a rest...

I ended up making quite quick decisions, in spite of the teachers encouraging me to keep looking. I couldn't properly explain how having such a massive choice was alien, that I was used to having limited options and found the variety somewhat overwhelming!

Anyway, purchases were made. I left with shirts for Mr Squidge and T, a shawl for J and a purple and lime accented, black and white patterned sari with black blouse and petticoat for me.

You'd think that would have been enough, wouldn't you? Nope.

*whispers* We managed a fourth trip!

And we did it on our own, on our last afternoon in Trichy, this time because N wanted to buy himself a dhoti - the traditional sarong-like item that a lot of men wear - and I wanted to purchase a second churithar suit.

Dhotis were purchased, with the help of a dhoti-dressing team; a young man who had been appointed our guide and four of his mates on the towel counter, one of whom spoke a bit of English and took on the task of showing N how to wear the dhoti. (Some of them have velcro!). Then it was churithar time again...

I was torn between a wine-and-lime-green or a turquoise-with-chocolate version. I could've bought both (good job I didn't, as my suitcase would never have closed) but resisted, as I felt that my Western materialistic side was beginning to rear its head at that point and I felt a bit greedy. So I plumped for wine-and-lime and we set off back to the hostel on a tuc-tuc ride that I will never, ever forget...

Hem embroidery

Neckline detail

I loved Saratha's. The wimp in me, who didn't like the thought of bartering, found the price tags much easier...and next time I go to Trichy, I will book an entire day in the shop I think!

The weird thing is, back in the UK, the gold on my pink sari has lost its gleam. There's something about the light here, about the way we're all wrapped up and the grey skies that seems to suck the colour out of everything. I was moved to write a poem about it the other day;

Indian colour.

Gilt thread, which gleamed in Indian sunlight, 
has lost its brightness in the pale winter light of England. 
The glitter of diamante is replaced with tacky slogans, 
elegance by shapeless leggings and baggy jumpers. 
That coloured world is gone, replaced with black and grey and denim blue. 

Before, there was baby pink with lemon yellow,
wine with lime,
royal purple with satsuma orange,
turquoise with chocolate brown,
forest green with midnight black.
Stiff silk, chic chiffon, cool cotton and luscious linen.
Patterned, embroidered, printed, plain, 
gilded, silvered, jewelled.
No two the same, no ordered rainbow, 
simply a feast for the eyes, 
satisfying an appetite with rich shades, fresh pastels, unexpected contrasts or subtle blends

I wanted to drink in the colour until I was full -
so that I need never feel colourless again.