It’s sunny and gently warm when Guria and I head out together an hour later. After some iron-sweet bargaining on Guria’s part, she and a tuc-tuc driver agree on a fare approximately a third of what I would pay (even after my best haggling attempts) and we bounce and chug our way through the chaotic streets to Papu Bazaar, a market place bursting with colourful clothes and textiles as far as the eye can see.
We try two shops, the first having a beautiful outfit but a touch expensive (nearly €30… not exactly western pricing I know) since the matching pants/dupatta are sold separate. Guria, clearly an avid one for the bargains, is adamant: move on. The second shop has some equally lovely pieces including a long, flowing gold and pink top with matching floor-length skirt and dupatta.
It’s almost decided until my flighty scattered mind catches sight of a rather unusual outfit hanging on a mannequin: a kind of waist-length blazer in a rich royal blue, with endless sparkly gold sequins and a long billowing golden skirt.
It looks perfect on the dummy so naturally I’m assuming it will on me too. Sold! The in-house tailor takes my measurements and then Guria and I head out to sample some random pastry street-food that costs around 30cents total, while the blazer is being fitted.
When we collect it, I suggest trying it on but the men are full of smiles and head wobbles; no no no, try at home madame. Any problems you come back to us! And Guria’s in full agreement so, against my better judgement, we take it home.
Oh dear! The scratchiest most ungainly garment I have ever worn, grazes my face as I scramble my way into it, almost too tight to get on yet somehow, somehow, loose and frumpy once I’m actually wearing it. Only in fucking India!
I’m feeling more miserable by the moment because all the other Indian women are going to look stunningly beautiful and the thought of wearing, essentially, a sparkly sack of potatoes is breaking my heart!.
And then I notice something else: no shoulder pads on this baby, boob-pads. And they’re up around my fucking collar bone! Guria and I share a good laugh over it – just as well because if I weren’t laughing by now I’d be in tears. The intensity of Indian life hasn’t settled with me yet, I’m probably still jet-lagged and I’m feeling wound up like an irritable dog that’s been poked and prodded.
“No problem, cha-chee,” she tells me with quiet confidence. “I fix for you!”
Najema and Akila come in to inspect my purchase and there is suddenly much serious discussion between them and Guria, who’s now looking a little abashed, while my two sisters-in-law are holding up the top and inspecting it warily, with occasional ‘what can you do’ glances my way.
Despite my knowledge of Hindi, I’m stumped as to what’s wrong but when Alex arrives a moment later I discover that out of all the colours in the world I could have chosen, I chose the very one and only – dark blue – that women are not allowed wear in this family home (though, as is typical with these kinds of things, they give me no clear reason as to why).
I’m breaking all kinds of rules and traditions; rebel Liz, inadvertently trampling all over the family’s customs like an elephant trying to do ballet. Doh!
We have committed a serious faux-pas. Taking the shop’s business card from me, Guria calls them and asks them to let me exchange it (I’m now desperately wishing I’d gone for the pink one, why didn’t I go for the pink one???) but alas, once the fitting has been done – however badly – they won’t change anything. Typical.
I stand looking at myself in the mirror, at the baggy sides, the padded boobs up around my ears and the loose, too-long sleeves, my skin feeling as though I’m wearing a giant sparkly brillo-pad… oh dear.
And the cherry on top? At Indian weddings, what creates the rainbow of shiny colours are the incredible shawls the ladies wear that drape elegantly over their heads. These wedding-suit dupattas twinkle and sparkle and shimmer and shine and turn a pretty outfit into a master-piece of elegant beauty.
What do I have? A thin gauzy veil that barely covers my head and finishes off my strange take on a sequined Virgin Mary. I’m going to the wedding dressed as a frumpy blue nun; a glittery one at that. Brilliant.
Add to this the gorgeous Indian coffee-coloured skin and striking brown eyes perfectly outlined in dark kohl and next evening I feel like a true ugly duckling. My eye-liner is streaky, my skin blotchy and dear God, my suit?! Disaster!
The thing is, on top of the travel-tiredness and readjusting to the intensity of Indian life, I am also in the midst of severe pms that I’m not even aware of (thanks to it being an unexpected week early). In other words, I’m a ticking time-bomb and heaving blubbery snotty tears are an inevitable consequence – the storm that will clear the air so-to-speak.
This storm is a bit like cleaning up and rebooting a computer; everything runs smoother and more effectively afterwards.
So it is with me. But don’t worry, my big drama over the suit is just that, silly drama and utterly inconsequential in the bigger scheme of things. And the ladies let me wear the terribly unlucky blue suit despite none of them being allowed to wear this colour (like I said before, I seem to get away with all kinds of things!).
After all, India is only doing what she does best, pushing my limits as hard as she can and showing me that no matter how much I think I’ve got it, there’s still a way to go. A long, looooong way!