The monsoon is starting in Delhi. The temperature, although lower than June, is still at 35 degrees but now humid. One wants to throw off long sleeves but the bugs are breeding in this moist warm air and the mosquito will soon be out in force, so necessity influences and adapts fashion.
The most popular daywear for young Indian women is the Salwar Kameez, also know as the Punjabi suit or Churidaar in Southern India. The Salwar is a loose baggy trouser that narrows around the calf, and the Kameez, the long tunic that ends just below the knee. This is usually worn in cotton and is very cool. When outdoors, this outfit is worn with a veil or ‘dupatta’ to cover the head and bust. I have taken to wearing this most days as the dupatta is better than a hat. You can cover your head from the sun and dust and blend it to the crowd.
Women spend many hours in the bazaars and markets trying out fabric combinations for these three items. The trouser is often plain and the kameez has some print or pattern. The veil is then of a finer voile in another print entirely. It makes every woman’s outfit unique. The tailors are busy outside the fabric shops stitching the fabrics on their trusty old sewing machines for a few hundred rupees and the customer emerges with a made to measure suit in just a few hours.
I sometimes stop in the markets and watch the spectacle as whole families can become involved in the lengthy task of choosing fabrics. After taking off their shoes at the entrance, they mount the steps onto the raised shop floor, which is covered with carpets and clean white sheets for stock to be laid out and examined.
Chai is served, animated discussions break out as women haggle over different fabrics whilst the patient shopkeeper, sits calmly in the corner overseeing his mute assistants unroll bolt after bolt of cloth, seeking to appease and steer this game towards a purchase.
Passers by have a flair for spotting their ideal print, especially if it is already in another woman’s hand, audaciously leaning in to handle part of the selection, interrupting any conversation to boldly add their opinion whether requested or not.
Should a purchase be made, lengthy negotiations take place until the ‘real boss’, sitting cross-legged on the floor behind his small raised wooden desk, agrees on a final price and making out a hand-written receipt slowly and carefully inspects the proffered cash.
Cash change creates a frenzy as several devoted assistants drop everything, dispersing in all directions in search of a neighbor willing to exchange notes for the illusive coins.
If no purchase is made the forlorn shopkeeper watches as the whole unperturbed entourage leaves to start again next-door. This fantastic colourful charade continues hour after hour, day after day within countless stops in countless markets all over India. These women know what they are doing and will not be rushed… after all, it’s too hot to hurry and don’t we have all day? Incredible India!