Sunday, October 31, 2010

Saree Shopping

India is a complex chaotic place consumed by traditions and religious conviction. Our tour guide said the secret to driving through the madness of the streets is to have “a good horn, good brakes, and above all good luck.”

Choosing a saree — the traditional Indian dress for women — is not an easy process and I was ready to jump into it with the two hours I had left in Mumbai, India. Earlier in the day I flew with Ashley and my friends who are on Semester at Sea, but live in Mumbai, India, Anjali and Aman, to Mumbai. I had four hours till my return flight to Chennai, India and I wanted to utilize every minute of it.

After visiting Anjali’s house, meeting her family and eating homemade, traditional Indian cuisine we went down the street to Brahma Sarees to buy a saree. To be honest, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

The store was filled from the bottom up with stacks of fabric. They had every color and then some. Sales women and men lined the counter vying for each customer’s attention. It was 6:00 p.m. and we needed to leave Anjali’s house at 7 p.m. Anjali, Ashley and I sat down and the event began. Anjali asked me the color I wanted, the price range, and the fabric and then translated to the sales people. It was great to have a native speaker with us. It made the process that much easier and faster.

Choosing a saree can be an all day process that involves choosing the right colors for the saree piece or what is basically a long piece of fabric about 6 yards. Then having to find a tailor to make an undershirt, a small shirt that exposes the belly, and buying the underskirt. For a more modernized urban inhabitants like Anjali and her mother they would only wear a saree to very formal events like a wedding. Not even Anjali’s sister Radhika, who was getting ready for her 16th birthday party that night was going to wear a saree. She had chosen a tight fitting dress that fell above the knee for her party. But in more rural areas sarees are all they wear.

In the store yards and yards of fabric was yanked from their homes on the shelves and placed in front of me. They were all so beautiful which made the selection even harder. It wasn’t like I was buying a dress or something I was familiar too. This was a garment I had never even worn. There were light purple ones, dark purple ones, pink, red, and every other color in the purple red spectrum. I was looking for purple one. The clock was ticking 6:20p.m. I needed to make a decision and find someone to sew the shirt. The temperature was rising and my throat was getting dry. It is so hard to tell what will look best when you have been immersed in the culture less than three hours. It came down to a vote and the deep purple/pink with the green trim won. I purchased the saree and they cut off a yard at the bottom for the top. Running out of the store we all were looking for the tailors hoping they had not already closed. I thought we were looking for a store, but as we turned the corner there were men with their sewing machines on the sides of alleyways sewing away.

“Huh … could this really be legitimate?”

But Anjali knew what she was doing and I trust her. She was talking in Hindi with the tailors. The first one shook his head and pointed further down the street. The next one said yes, took the material and took my measurements. It was 6:40 p.m. I wasn’t going to get the shirt in 20 minutes so Anjali said she would bring it to Chennai later. With the remaining time we bought some bangles to go with the saree and chips for the plane ride. I still can’t believe we made it.


  1. Good write up.
    You had a nice experience in the Mumbai, India.Thanks for sharing the experience.

  2. Belleahssima...I can't wait to see you in your saree!