I walked along the dusty paths at the Uday Samudra Resort in Trivandrum. It was like two separate worlds. One that held the rich glamour of the wealthy and the other, a more normal and quieter life.
My “foreigner” look was obvious, for not only was I clutching a clunky camera, but I was wearing shorts and sunglasses. Something that local Keralites wouldn’t wear.
Greeting people with a “namaskaram”, and a smile, a man soon jostled up to me with an inquisitive look in his eyes.
Where was I going? He wanted to know. How long was I here for in Trivandrum? Did I want a tour?
I politely declined and continued to weave the walkways. Drinks dangled out a shack nearby as a woman prepared tea. A dog rooted through a pile of plastic. It was oddly satisfying to simply wander in the unknown.
“Namaskaram – hello!” I repeated to curious eyes and I soon discovered that the further I went, the more curious I became.
And that’s how I ended up in Ish’s shop.
The key to shopping for clothes in India is to act as if you’re not interested in particular objects and to be as vague as possible. Though I hadn’t confirmed this theory, I had been warned by a friend to be aware in markets that shopkeepers gave different coloured bags to customers to show other shopkeepers how “easy” or “difficult” a bargainer a person was. I was ready to rumble.
Ish was handsome with a broad, welcoming smile. His stop was laden with clothes, trinkets, and jewellery. We started chatting outside and as we discussed in-depth about where I had been in Kerala, I found myself gushing about the “the mountains of Munnar”, “Alleppey’s quiet backwaters” and the “glimpses of Kumily”.
“But have you been north?” he quizzed. I admitted that I hadn’t.
“You must!” he enthused. “Snowy mountains – fresh air for the soul. It’s great. Do you mind if I show you where?”
He beckoned me towards his shop and flipping on the air conditioning (for that’s what most tourists tended to like!), he produced a well-worn book on India. “This is Kashmir where I’m from” he announced, prodding a finger at the fraying pages.
And there they were. The snow falling from the slopes, the sky exceptionally blue, lush greens and ethnic minority groups proudly clad in their outfits. It did look pretty marvellous.
“I follow you!” Ish mused when I asked him what he was doing in Kerala. 10 months of the year he told me, he spends down in southern India while his family keep a shop in the north. He follows the tourism season and the “money trail”.
“It’s not so bad,” he told me. “I get to fly”
We spent over half an hour shooting the breeze without a question of shopping. In truth, I liked his personality. His good nature made me want to linger and the fact that there was no pressure put my mind at ease.
I eventually picked out kaftan that I liked (even with slightly fraying edges) and tried it on.
“So tell me. What’s your best price, Ish?”
His smile broadened and a laugh escaped his lips, “HA! HA! Well 2000 rupees would be mine, but I don’t think that would be yours”
I smiled back – he knew the game and was willing to play. To-ing and fro-ing we eventually settled on a price much lower than the quote and he threw in a magnet for good luck.
Handing me over a yellow bag, I didn’t care what colour the bag was because I left with a spring in my step back through those dusty paths.
Yellow for me was healing. Yellow was joy.