A Rant on Shopping

Four hours on the street and not a single thing bought. Three hours online and all I have to show is a single little top that, lucky me, was on a sale.

The modern woman today is apparently particular about what she wears. The modern Indian woman is apparently even more exacting.

Why then in the hundreds of sites and apps are similar products of bad quality? Where are the rich fabrics, the fun designs? And if you do come across one or the other, they come with a hefty price tag with it.

Shopping today is no longer fun. It is a riot of clothes, bad tailoring, worse fabrics and makes you wanna scream. Every time you see those little list “5 must haves in your wardrobe”, you wanna slap the writer because you know most of that is paid. Or the writer has a fantastic salary or an inheritance.

The common girl simply cannot survive fashionably in this city. Reading the listicles online make you wonder if all those good things are simply eluding you.

I’m someone who appreciates quality. I hate this concept of fast fashion where you clothes not only go out of style in a few months, but fade away as well. As someone who has my favourite clothes from a decade ago (and yes, many of them came back into fashion as well!), I choose my clothes with care and love and I want them to last.

But in the days where ‘subscription’ is the norm and not buying, fast is preferred over quality, fashion doesn’t allow you the same luxury. From what my fashion-conscious friends tell me, there are some brands that do last but the price tag… well, I mentioned that before already right?

There was a time when I bought Ferragamo and Bardot and dailywear were brands… but it is all so boring today. Putting together a look requires more effort… even the t-shirts are badly shaped! The $2 t-shirt fits me better than the $20 branded wear.

And since this is a rant, I can perhaps conclude it – where the hell do you get quality, funk and prices for normal human beings?

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The Shopaholic Returns

There has been a fair bit of shop talk the past few days. And I literally do mean shopping. Mall-shopping, store-hopping and of course, it is the sale season. My current book is “Shopaholic in Manhattan” among the other Shopaholic books and my inbox is flooded with offers from online retail sites I signed up for a while ago.

And in the midst of this hoopla, I came across an article in Conde Nast Traveller, which states “how we shop, where we shop and how far we are willing to travel to shop is redefining our economic stature, as it is re-imagining our cultural identity.”

Most of the statement is nothing new. How, where and how far obviously define your economic stature. Cultural identity – now that is a different thing.

I was one of Bangalore’s recent malls. The mall is not yet fully functional but there were enough mall rats on a Sunday. What I found surprising was the fact that the most crowded store is actually a mini-mall by itself. People head to these stores but their comfort zone has already been defined by these stores that have ingratiated into our cultural sense by being the first ones. As Indians, we are strongly resistant to anything new… but once we get used to it, we are fierce loyalists too. Photocopy machines is still Xerox, a cold drink is often still a Frooti and a chocolate is still Cadburys in many parts of the society.

The retail outlets like Zaras, Steve Madden and more are often places to browse through rather than buy. During the sale season, I surprisingly did not find much a price difference, give the style quotient between the so-called Elite stores like Zara and the ‘commoner’ Central.

We aspire to be stylish… a little bit of a fall out from reading too much Shopaholic is all the brand names float in your brain, taunting you.

But I’m not a brand person. I’d happily pick up a jacket regardless of the brand if it looks good on me and fits me. But brands and season trends are defined so bizzarely, in my mind. Winter Collections should be bright and colourful and Summer should be soothing and pastels. Or whatever catches your eye.

A simple search for a short jacket turns into a debate of  “That is no longer fashionable, madam. Can I offer you this shapeless shrug instead?”

How can a shapeless shrug ever and I really do mean ever replace a smart, short jacket? And yet people buy into this mass hysteria, going by what they read, what they see someone else wearing and end up like clones.

Is our cultural identity really being re-imagined here? Sure, we have the opportunity to, with curtains from Dubai and shoes from Milan and jackets from… wherever. Bringing a little bit of the Middle Eastern, Italian, Australian and other cultural thought frames into you. And i’m sure it helps when you are visiting these other places and absorbing a little bit of the culture there.

But when all these cultures come to your doorstep, removed from context and you blindly ape someone, are you really re-imagining yourself or destroying yourself?

Dreaming

The urge to spend more hits only when you are close to being broke. Is that a suicidal/destructive instinct that is deeply rooted and surfaces only in moments such as this? But somehow, only when you are intent about zipping up your purse, all these beautiful things you want start passing in front of your eyes.

My shopping list?

– A leopard print skirt – I wouldn’t probably even wear it… I never felt like wearing it. But now, I saw someone wearing it and hey! I want that.

– Leopard print boots – now this, I definitely want. And have been on the lookout but India never caught on that animal print craze that swept the fashion world last year.

– A black formal jacket. Make that a formal suit. I hate wearing jackets… particularly in summer (which promises to be sweltering hot this year). But I want one.

– A proper bag – okay. This comes under necessity… if there are designers out there listening, mark this down. I want a bag which looks cool and is big enough to fit my camera – by which I mean the SLR, all the other knick knacks a girl gotta have, maybe space for a lens. Yet it should not look shabby or too huge… would be better if it were a sling types. And yes, enough sleek compartments so that I do not have to dig through it looking for all those small things that I dump in my bag. Sigh… might as well ask for world peace, eh?

– A jacket… with multiple pockets

– A pretty white dress

– A press red dress

– A frilly red skirt

– The perfect white top

– The perfect formal white shirt

yeah I should stop torturing myself.

Where are the cutesy flea stores in this city?

The Weekend

There has been blogging silence for a while. Perhaps the lack of interesting topics to talk about or the reluctance to talk about things on this not-so-private platform.

Had a much relaxed and different Saturday night in a while… different in the sense it wasn’t my usual crowd and usual hang out spot. I graced the streets of the city centre after months, only to being hyperventilating a minute after stepping onto the main street.

I was all excited and eager to be there but in the joy, I had forgotten that it was Christmas and every mother’s son and daughter would be on the street ‘celebrating’ the day. But since i was already there, I figured the only way to really deal with it was Pink Floyd and plugged on my ipod and literally jumped into the crowd. It was a little like jumping into an ocean of black heads and backs. You cannot see anything beyond a step in front of you, and if you are lucky, beside you too. So you need to know where you want to go and plan accordingly and the crowd carries you till then.

The most surprising part was that people actually managed to walk in groups and not lose each other in the madness. Guys made use of the opportunity to cop a quick feel while others tried to get out of there as fast as possible.

Ironically, the other pavement was only half crowded. I don’t know what laws of the universe states that this side of the pavement has to be always crowded on this street. That’s how it has been as far as I can remember. Perhaps people just cross into the street and don’t want to cross over to the other pavement. I don’t know. But as I had to take a left, I walked with my head down and Pink Floyd wailing that we don’t need no education till someone literally yanked me into the corner and said “hey”

So we – a friend and me – stood at an intersection and talked, without really blocking anyone. That’s another way this place works… there are little nooks where you can stand and chat.

And because it was Christmas, there were piles of Santa hats being sold. The fashion of the season. Almost everyone was wearing one or was dressed in red. For once, I was glad that I was not wearing red…. I wore non-Christmas colours, I realised surprisingly. The cafes were crowded and even the staff wore Santa hats.

The marked difference between predominantly Christian countries and India is that during Christmas every shop does have a tree and a mistletoe and perhaps even Christmas special menu but the goodwill is absolutely missing. Of course, in the U.S. or elsewhere, most of these shops will be closed. But here, nobody wishes you “Merry Christmas” when you enter the shop or give you candy when you are walking out. That sort of marketing just has not entered the retail mindsets here.

The only place where we were wished was this old Chinaman who took our order at a restaurant. I found his courtesy and the way he spoke to us utterly charming. The food was mediocre and the ambiance, worse. But the man made up for all of it and more.

Shopping was… unsuccessful to say the least. When you have specific ideas like I do about what you are looking for, it is really hard to find in a city that is a season behind the top fashions and even then factory-produces the designs. And then prices them outrageously.

It is disappointing to find that my favorite shopping haunts are gone or have become outrageously priced. Since when did a simple long woolen top cost close to a grand in a non-branded, rip-off place. Commercial Street and such are Bangalore’s equivalent of Bombay’s Causeway or Linkin Road. But the thing is… the prices and the quality simply cannot measure up to Bombay. The retailers realise that people are willing to pay in Bangalore. So what would probably cost 500 in Bombay costs double here. Worse, my favorite shopping haunt – Tibet Market – which is run by these displaced Tibetans is now one of the most outpriced places in the city 😦

They had simple, clean fashions that fit me (important factor). The quality was the same as in the stores (who would mark up their goods by 50 percent – as a retailer friend tells me) so Tibet Market was where all us college kids headed for good bargains. Now, they are perhaps more expensive than a store. Charity? Donation for a cause? I’m not sure I feel charitable anymore.

Oh well… it was an evening well spent. Church Street often reminds me of the back alleys of the most exclusive cities in the world. Or the slightly faded street behind the most exclusive streets in the world. At 11.30, there are autos parked outside every restaurant, which is every few steps, soliciting and bargaining with people. Autos are a terror in the city. But when buses stop plying around midnight or are few and far in between, not to mention about the safety part…

There were women dressed up in the shortest skirts, making me wonder how they were not shivering in the 8 degree temperature of the city. Men were drunk and loud. We got hit on several times in the short stretch of the road… I’m undecided yet if that could even be called “hit on” or be called “harassed” and if there is any part of it which is flattering that a 20-year old thinks I look young and hot; or how guys are such morons that they get a kick out of saying ‘hey hey hey’ till you look at them and then giggle and then approach you and say ‘my friend wants to talk to you’. And then laugh like hyenas when you roll your eyes and keep walking.

It isn’t an Indian thing. We got asked for a drink by Indian guys when we were walking past a club, we got harassed by a bunch of drunk African guys when we were leaving and an Iranian guy suggested we would like to join him an after party. Men all over the world really have no idea what a woman wants?

Sunday was perhaps more successful. A warm, sunny afternoon… wine, pasta and brilliant company after finding almost the very thing that you wanted. It reminded of the afternoon just a year ago spent by the lake in Melbourne. The sun makes you a little more drunk… and makes you lazy and just wanting to bask on a bean bag with a novel and just… snooze. Rare, such afternoons are. Particularly in winter when the sun sets early and the wind gets harsh. I walked around, feeling stronger, feeling calmer… and not thinking about those things that haunt your sleep.

A Walk In The Market

The dirtiest and one of the most busiest markets in Bangalore. At 8 AM. Which was probably a little late because the real work here happens around 6-7 AM, but considering our level of laziness, me and a few other friends did a photowalk at Russell Market in Bangalore.

It was interesting… I’d been there a couple of times. Once, when a friend and me returning after a party decided to take a short cut and avoid 2 kms of a road and a traffic light headed into the maze. We followed a bus that we figured would come out on the other side, except the  bus led us right into the centre and stopped.

So we wound our way around and finally resurfaced on the main road 40 minutes later.

The other time was again in an auto – least this time, the guy knew the roads. But it was right before Ramzan or some other Muslim festival, so the streets were crowded with last minute shoppers and it was truly a celebration.

So when my friend asked for suggestions for the photowalk, I figured that would be an interesting place.
I didn’t quite get the energy I was looking for.
The chaos and the noise. But there was activity. People were setting up for the day. The florists were knotting the flowers in garlands, stacking bunches of roses, sprinkling water and sorting the bad flowers out. There were rows and rows of fruit sellers and I smelled the rich scent of mangoes for the first time this summer.
That was probably also the last good smell for the day.
We wound our way past the florists and I caught a whiff of meat. That unique smell where you know there is flesh around the corner. I wondered if I should head in there alone or wait for my friends. I was starving by then but the smell of fresh meat? Ugh!
Plus one of the members of the group was a vegetarian. And then I realised he was off happily shooting flowers and fruits at the other end.
So we headed into the butcher’s alley.
I had seen something of the sort in Mysore. Rows and rows of butchers, with all kinds of meat. Well, at least there was space for all that. There were only a handful of guys and the meat was all goat. No pork in here.
And then I wandered out back to the fish market. How many times have the teachers at school called the noisy classrooms a “fish market”? Such a wrong comparision!! For one, classrooms are noisy. But they do not stink. And the fish markets aren’t noisy. Tch tch! But they sure as hell are interesting, once you manage to get over the overpowering stink.
Crabs, fishes, lobsters, big crabs (what are those called), alive, dead, partially alive, prawns of all sizes, sharks, fishes as big as me… mussells, something that looked like eels, squids… you name it and you could get it.
Some of it would be sent to the big hotels, one of the guys said. The others would vanish in a couple of hours, apparently. I wondered how much people should love food to get drag themselves there at 8 AM on a sunday morning to get fresh fish. They bought coolers to carry back their choice home.
I was tempted to pick up some prawns… but the thought of it in my bag for the next couple of hours, the stink… and the thought of fumigating my bag put me off.
I forget sometimes, living in the city, eating in clean houses, that this is where the food comes from. Most people wouldn’t probably order fish at those classy restaurants if they knew that the fish was lying on an open road a few hours earlier. Yeah, it is cooked and all… but hey! 🙂
We wandered out into the scrap market. A famous place to find spare parts for your car or bike, and I suspect, to chop up cars. There were parts of cars piled on houses and the tin shops. Most of them were still closed… they had no reason to be open at the crack of dawn. But there were enough people around to be curious about a crowd walking around with cameras.
They figured we were the press.
“No photos!” he said quite loudly.
I was wondering how to explain we weren’t the media, at least not right then.
Luckily, my friend stepped in and explained we were just practising our camera skills. It is so surprising how easily people take to the camera. I expected them to be shy, not happily cock their heads and pose for the photo. Some even requested a copy of the photo. The old man in the photo above got irritated at the young boys ragging him about us taking his photo than our cameras.
Is it an Indian thing? Or is it a general need for attention? Women, men and kids alike happily looked at the camera. Or blatantly ignored us. And here I was expecting people to come and say “Stop taking our photo”.
Interesting times. Stinky times.
(For more photos, try my flickr account. You can access it by clicking on here or through my photoblog)
Song of the day: Smelly Cat – Friends