Pudumandapam steeped in history and heritage is a shopper's paradise for foreigners too, writes A.SHRIKUMAR

Shuffling through the city's narrow streets, one may not really give a thought to what these shady lanes hide in their congestion.

Only when you squeeze through stone-floored aisles of Pudumandapam abuzz with people, colours, art and craft that you discover a shoppers' paradise.

And if you happen to be a shopaholic, then the typical Indian elements -- chunkily embellished ‘Jhola' bags with the pictures of Indian gods Siva and Ganesha, shining silk pouches with the silk brocades of elephant and swan images, lurid colourful beads, antique silver jewellery, paisley printed silk stoles, ‘Om' printed T-shirts, miniature paintings and sling bags with ‘Kanchipuram silk border' adorning the zip line – can drive you crazy.

Amidst the myriad colours of activities, catching a European buying a dozen of mirror-work bangles may stick to your memory like gum. This legendary place, in fact, proves the ‘fashion point' to majority foreigners. It is a major hub of tailors whose mastery over the art of ‘making the cut' is as flawless and flaunty as any fashion designer.

“We have been doing this job here since generations and decades now. During Deepavali and Pongal, people buy fabric from the shops here and get it stitched from us within no time. Many foreign tourists get the measurements made right here and like to get blouses done” Arumugam, a tailor at Pudumandapam for 40 years gushes.

Cheap and colourful

“Fabrics are very cheap here compared to our countries and moreover I love the bright colours and textures that reflect the very essence of Indianness. This country has colours in spices and stylish clothes too”, shares Tine Soers from Belgium, showing off her newly stitched red silk blouse with Tanjore border. For Marc, a tourist from Europe, the Kitschy accessories, jewellery and hippie clothes reminds of the Kingly past of India, where splendid silk clothes with heavy drapes and ornate weaves, gold and stone beads were prevalent. “Whenever I come to India, I see the subdued version of ‘Rajas and Maharajas', their royal bounties and its influence in the elaborate silk saris and intricate anklets and amulets” he says.

Little could have one thought that traditional ‘surukku pai' of old Indian grannies would become trendy pouches for young European ladies. Religious ‘Jholna pai' of bearded sadhus would work as a ‘convenient style statement' for clean-shaven handsome guys from America and ‘silver kolusu' traditionally worn by Indian women would become a fashion accessory worn in one ankle. “The ‘Om' print and the saffron colour is integrally linked to Indian spirituality. I like to have it on my T-shirt or bag. When I go back home, I flaunt these,” reveals, Ms. Linda from US, who is on a yoga venture.

Shopping experience

Apart from designs, colours and textures, the very experience of shopping and art of bargaining provides a new impetus for foreign tourists. Pudumandapam shopkeepers are adept in English, levying an easy bargain for the tourists.

“We know bargaining is needed in Indian shopping and come prepared. But I find the shopkeepers very friendly and they usually quote a reasonable price, then later we settle down for a ‘Happy price' for both,” chuckles, Mr. Jones from Netherlands.

“Tourists form a major chunk of our customer base. We come up with innovative products exclusively for them and we also source various traditional items from Jaipur and Himachal,” chips in Mr. Maruthu, who sells Jaipuri kurtis, Rajasthani miniatures, batik cushion-covers and tie-and-dye scarves.

Fascination

“Foreigners are more fascinated by the every-day items. My wife comes up with innovative ideas like making bags out of silk saris or bands out of beads and she also stitches them at home, which I retail in my shop. We also trade typically south Indian items to the cities in the North like Jaipur, Delhi, Agra and Lucknow and in turn source silver jewellery, embroidery from them,” updates, Mr. Vijayan, who has been in this business for three decades.

Housing almost fifty odd shops dealing with fabrics, accessories, footwear, flowers and other traditional craft items, Pudumandapam has successfully got its name included in various international guide-books providing information on tourism in South India. Undeniably, this historical monument has become a street side-shopping place for many. While the ‘young lot' of India is busy aping the West, taking to skirts and shorts, it is amazing to see how Westerners are patronizing Indian designs. What is tradition for some is fashion for the other, as truly said ‘Fashion stems from tradition'!

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