22 July 2011

Shopping for a Salwar Kameez

20 July
In an open field near a gravel pit there is a dirt mound. The view of the gravel pit is dark and hopeless, "what nothing really is." If you take a few steps on a "tract of unlit sand," though, you come to the dirt mound with its "weed-covered slope." From there you can see everything--mountains, city lights, and the moon. In the gravel pit you'll hear the soundless vacuum of emptiness and feel the colorless loneliness of nothing. On the dirt mound you'll hear the breeze and feel the reverberation of the silent voices of the night. Clearly, the mound is the place to be, but the gravel pit is not to be resisted.

Dr. Burton's text works as a metaphor for my mind--the gravel pit of depression and the dirt mound of joyful relief. The tract of sand has its place, too, as neither one nor the other. For my mother's sake I'll not that, like the narrator, I do not jump into the pit but merely look in. I should also note that gravel, sand, and dirt are all natural states of rock in the same way that these mental states are normal parts of my life.

Just before we left for Amritsar a group of us went shopping for salwar kameezes. The excursion began happily, as I'd just spoken to my adorable family on Skype, and swiftly went downhill from there. We discovered that the time needed to tailor the clothes meant that we would not have them in time to wear in Amritsar, which was the only reason I was buying one. I therefore requested to see the ready-made options, none of which I liked at all. I was unfortunately in the company of an aggressively opinionated Indian woman named Ragni who insisted that this one looked great with my face and I ought to buy it. I consented to appease her, and then looked around at the other fabrics.

"I like that one," I said, and the employee pulled down a peach colored cloth embroidered in a dull brassy thread.

"It's the same as someone else I know," said Ragni dismissively, not impressed with my choice. The employee pulled out a few more clothes. I picked one up.

"No," said Ragni, "You already have a shirt that color. Every time you buy clothes you should buy a new color." She held up the other fabric. "This one is good." I liked the green but hated the purple in the pants and scarf. "It will look good on you and it's a very pretty fabric. You should get this one tailor made." We'd been there a long time, I had a headache and it was threatening rain. I didn't resist Ragni and consented again. I hadn't even planned to buy two.

Then another half hour of Ragni's errands and we came back to McLeod.

"Please, Ragni, can we buy you lunch?" asked Megan. "You can choose the restaurant. We're just so grateful that you took us shopping." And that's how I ended up sitting in a pricey Indian restaurant in the late afternoon with an ugly brown salwar kameez, wondering how I could have forgotten to pack my ibuprofen and what I'd tell that guy who I had promised to meet this afternoon and how I could be so far behind on my project anyway, dreading seeing that gaudy purple salwar kameez when we returned from Amritsar. I spent some time looking at the gravel pit that day.

After a few more cycles at the pit, the sand tract, and the dirt mound, though, I headed down to Ragni's apartment where the tailor had delivered our finished clothes. I had long since recovered from the shopping trip, but I was not excited to see that awful purple again.

Maybe it was my very low expectations, or maybe the purple had never been that bad, but I didn't hate the pants when I saw them. It's different to see finished clothes rather than a few yards of fabric, and besides I was very encouraged that this salwar kameez was the same size as I am. The ugly brown one I'd worn in Amritsar was at least four sizes too big.

"Try it on here," said Ragni. "If it doesn't fit we can send it back to the tailor. I obliged, and by the time I pulled the blouse over my head I'd forgotten all my loathing for the purple. It actually looked quite nice, and it definitely looks Indian.

"Oh," said Ragni, "it looks beautiful! Good fit. Nice colors. The silver on the edge looks so good. It looks very good on you."

I smiled a lot. "Thank you so much! I really like it, too."

The rain was coming down mercilessly, unaware that I didn't really want to get my new salwar kameez wet, but as I hurried home for dinner I was singing the West Side Story song "I Feel Pretty" to myself. It didn't even matter that I am not currently loved by a "pretty wonderful boy" like Maria was. Who needs boys when you have a pretty salwar kameez?

I think life is like that, not just me. Sometimes you're at the gravel pit and other times on the dirt mound. Plenty of times you're just in between on the tract of sand. It's a point on which I differ from Buddhist philosophy--I would rather have the hard times, the opposition, and the great times than avoid both on the middle way.


  1. Oh, Kristen, this is great. Half of the fun of the salwar kameez is wearing a crazy combination of colors you never would have considered before.

  2. Haha this made me laugh because I have so been there with the opinionate Indian women trying to get you to buy stuff that you don't really like at all. I've realized that Indian women are opinionated and fiesty...so we should be as well :) I've learned to tell them when I am full and to tell them when I don't like the shirt or the food. They appreciate people being up front :)

  3. Thanks Jay :) I'll wear it into the office sometime so you can see it in all its glory!

    Hailey, I wish I'd had your wisdom before! Tibetans are quite different from Indians and I haven't spent nearly as much time with Indians here. I'll keep that in mind for next time, though, and count my blessings that I went sari shopping with you instead!

    P.S. I am excited to see which color of sari you choose!

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  5. The green and purple salwar kameez is really pretty on you. I'm sorry you had an unpleasant experience though. But thankfully we know where that shop is and if we need any more pretty Indian clothes we can go get them by ourselves :)

  6. Oh, thanks Bonnie :) You're sweet. I'm so glad we went back for more! Your blue and green ones are especially beautiful. We should all wear them to our barbeque at Julia and Matt's in the fall :)