Some memories, no matter how deep they are buried, refuse to stay buried. Way back when, on my first (and I think my only) package sun holiday, anklets were all the rage. Everyone was wearing them. Never really one for staying on trend, for some reason I was determined to get in on this one. The sun was probably getting to me. I spent ages with one trader from Algiers, who promised that he had the most extensive range of anklets on the street. His blanket was covered with them. All sorts. All colours. All sizes. And I tried them all. And none of them would fit. Of course, the more embarrassed I got, the more anxious he became to make a sale. Eventually, he sat back on his haunches, and gave his diagnosis: I had fat ankles. And then he gave his prognosis: It was very unlikely that I would ever find an anklet to fit me; the only possible treatment was to buy a necklace and loop it around twice. I ran.
Since then, whenever I think of reincarnation, I thinking of coming back with ankles. Real ankles. And if memory serves me correctly, in my very brief appearance in SC’s Budapest Short on Leprechauns, when asked what my one wish would be – I said ‘ankles’. Fixated I am.
Wandering around Laad Bazaar in Hyderabad is quite the experience. [Laad means lacquer, by the way.] It’s colourful, loud, and full of bangles. I was there during the day but having watched the video of a night visit, I know I definitely have to go back to Hyderabad and see the Old City by night. There are more than 40 shops on the one street, some of which have been in families for generations. It’s an old market, a very old one. It’s where Bollywood comes to buy its bangles. Mind you, I wouldn’t have recognised a Bollywood star if they’d come up to me and introduced themselves by name. But I have it on good authority that they’re regular visitors to the bazaar.
Tourists were few and far between. I had an address for one store that specialised in glass bangles, but Krishna was with me and I was feeling the pressure NOT to wander. He’s a lovely lad, but a tad impatient. We tried one stop but they had no glass bangles at all. They were quite insistent though and I had to start the trying on process. Surprise, surprise. They couldn’t find a bangle to fit me. Son called over Dad and Dad in turn called Grandad and the three of them stood discussing the challenge. Other customers were earwigging and throwing surreptitious glances my way as Dad decided that a plastic bag would do the trick. He stuck my hand into the bag while Son tried to slip on the bangle over it. One pulling, the other pushing, me grimacing in pain. Okay, okay, I have wide hands. Not fat ones, or big ones, just wide ones. Wide knuckles. They eventually gave up and sent us to another shop.
There, they didn’t try the plastic bag trick but they did try everything else, including hand lotion. They seemed mesmerised. Wide hands are obviously not the norm in Hyderabad. By this stage, I was a little tired of being the attraction, so I didn’t hang around. But the search will be resumed next time I’m in town.
Hyderabad is also famous for its pearls, with an entire street – Patther Gatti – lined with shops selling all sorts of pearls in all sorts of settings. And yes, I know it’s miles from the sea. I did ask the question. But apparently, back in the day when the Nizam-ul-Mulk was in charge (about 200 years from the eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth century), they brought pearls from the Arabian Gulf to Hyderabad. Today, in the village of Chandanpet just outside the city, almost everyone is a pearl driller – a craft that requires a certain skill. Some of the pearls that I saw were tiny. And when the first set I fancied was in danger of choking me, Aman assured me that he would extend it a couple of inches – no problem. Before I bought (and not for me as I know it’s bad luck to buy pearls for yourself) I had him take a cigarette lighter to random pearls to be sure they were real. It’s not that I doubted him – he was lovely – it was more that I would hate to think I’d be taken for a ride. [I’m well aware of my gullibility – every saleman’s dream I am – and the self-beratement that comes with being had does my head in. I really should do my homework.]
All I actually wanted to buy on this trip, though, was a kurti – a tunic top worn over leggings that are scrunched up at the ankles. Indian women look so pretty, so vibrant, so colourful. And I figured I could cut a dash in one over the festive season. Strangely though, it’s only men serving in the government-sanctioned tourist shops, and lovely though they are, they just don’t get it.
‘Yes, ma’am, we have all sizes.’ And indeed they did. And everything in my size fit to perfection, except the bust. And it’s not as if the poor lad didn’t try. He must have pulled out ten different styles in fifty different colours. And none worked. I remembered this from last time, too.
So, what have I learned? From my research, I have concluded that the average Indian woman has petite hands, a slender neck, and a small chest. And I just don’t fit the mould. For me, it’ll have to be custom-made. But then I had more time and even after going to the the tailor and specifying exactly what I wanted in terms of neckline and roominess, I was flattened and my decolletage censored.
It’s been a mad week full of sensory overload and people, lots and lots and lots of people. I’m sick of hearing myself talk. I’ve been burning the candle at both ends (what’s new?) trying to fit in as much as possible and still work and I’m mentally and physically exhausted. But it’s a good kind of exhaustion. A healthy kind. One that comes from an onslaught of new and a deluge of different, one that has given me a new perspective.
One of the greatest things about travel, particularly to places that are so different from my norm, is that it gives me a chance to miss things, to miss people, to miss places that I might sometimes take for granted. And for that opportunity, coming as it does in the delight that is India, I’m truly grateful.
So, where to next?