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A harassment of choice

With Diwali round the corner, it is time for a shopping bonanza, but it can be daunting too, says DEEPA VASUDEVAN.

Wide variety to choose from. Photo: R. Ragu

SHOPPING FOR clothes is a tiring exercise. Not for me the exhilarating pleasure women are supposed to get from splurging on clothes. The effort of figuring out what I want to wear, finding it in shops and defending my choices can be quite daunting. The process goes somewhat like this. First, I discover that I haven't got a decent thing to wear. Next, I proceed to the nearest fabric shop for my pre-purchase ordeal. A salesman comes forward ingratiatingly with his standard query - do you want something simple or something fancy? That's an apparently innocuous question that spans a vast continuum of cloth. For the uninitiated, `simple' refers to drab pieces left over from last year and `fancy' usually means elaborately embroidered and sequined pieces of bright fabric. And for finicky buyers, who do not have a penchant for excessive simplicity nor aspire to the final frontiers of fanciness, there's a middle range, aptly called `simple-yet-fancy'. I decide to bypass this breath-taking range and suggest, that something regular and comfortable would do.

The salesman's enthusiasm starts fading. I can see that he's identified me as one of those difficult customers. He tries to tackle the situation by displaying simple-yet-fancy merchandise in a variety of colours. An array of whites, creams, pale pinks, pearl greys and leaf greens are trotted out as being extremely trendy. On second thoughts, taking in my not-so-fashionable-appearance, he assures me that light colours are great not just for summers but also for the autumn season when it is still quite warm, with winter weeks awayTaking courage firmly in my hands, I drop my bombshell: I need one midnight blue cotton piece of cloth for making a kurta. The smile is now completely gone. Apparently my demand is outrageous. . According to the sartorial rules governing this city dark blue is not worn when days are quite hot , but cotton is. Dark blue is appropriate for winter, but then cotton is not. To desire a combination of the two at any time of the year is the kind of oxymoron that only a moron would think of. Failing which, as my garrulous salesman points out, a madrasi might come up with this idea. When I admit that I could trace my roots to a few hundred kilometres south of Madras he looks jubilant at having his cultural theories vindicated. Maybe you'll get this in Madras, he suggests slyly. I shrug such slights easily, since I've never lived in Chennai and have no particular loyalty to the place. But I do know the norms of Chennai, and they don't accommodate my dress preferences either. Undiluted cotton is absolutely unfashionable in Chennai, where the sweating masses neatly combine fashion with practical considerations. Cotton is a hard taskmaster, it has to be washed carefully, starched, ironed and it still gets crumpled. For a city that's always short of water and patience, `breathable' fabric comes at a heavy price. So shop racks are crammed with bales of hybrid cloth - silk, polyester or lycra mated with cotton to clog its pores and make it stronger and longer-lived.

Censured both by my cities of birth and residence, I decide to buy a more acceptable colour. I ask for sky-blue fabric, conscious of the victorious gleam in the salesman's eye. I am given a grey-brown bit of cloth. Which sky looks like that, I ask indignantly. Look up and you'll know, he retorts smartly. Though it is not blazing the sky looks scorched all right. . I look at him with some respect. A salesman with an imagination and the sense of humour to apply it! That's a rarity in this city and worthy of admiration. Interpretation of colours is subjective, after all, and I don't always have to wear `mera wala' sky blue.

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