Tuesday, February 20, 2007

International Fair: Pretty Red Kurta!

The International Fair was a great deal of fun. The town in which my university is located has an extraordinarily high desi population, so the Indian booths were quite the star of the show.

I must say, though, that I was a little piqued by the advertising. The signs all said "Eat Your Way Around The World! Admission $2!" and so I went up to the door and paid my two dollars, and then discovered that the $2 only gave me the privilege of walking through the door and smelling the food, as everything inside was an additional... well... more dollars.

In addition to food, the various student organizations were selling "stuff." Team Japan brought Hello Kitty dolls and male and female Pocky ("male Pocky" is bitter chocolate, and "female Pocky" is sweet -- yes, this was written on the packaging), Team Korea was selling Barbie-style plastic dolls in traditional Korean clothing... and Team India was selling kurtas.

I could not believe it. They were beautiful. And, as my eyes lingered over the delicate embroidery, in swooped the official Student Sales Representative (whom, incidentally, I really, really liked -- the following story is not meant to be pejorative, but rather a testament to his skill).

And he began holding each kurta out in turn, folding, refolding, holding them up to my skin, telling me about their history and condition and the student who brought them all the way from Bombay to sell at this student fair, and of course I mentioned that I was planning to travel to India, so then each kurta became "This one will look beautiful on you in India. You could also think about getting more than one for your travels. This one will look beautiful too!"

In the end, I ended up with the most expensive and elaborately ornamented kurta of the lot. Before anyone accuses me of spendthriftiness, it was the only one which actually fit me -- I am a petite woman by any country's standards. It was priced at $20.

"Do you like that one?" the Sales Rep asked. "I can get you a discount because you are going to India and I want to make sure you get a pretty kurta. What if we said, say, $17.50?"

Shit! I thought. This is where I'm supposed to haggle and I don't know how!

"$17.50 sounds great!"

So I went home with a pretty red kurta (that is to say, white cotton with red embroidery and beadwork). It came, like a Karan Johar film, incomplete -- I had to stitch on the sleeves myself, but stitch them on I did.

I went back to the second day of the International Fair, because my lunch break between paper tech and rehearsal coincided with the Indian Student Association's scheduled "cultural performance." I was hoping for some kind of Audience Participatory Bhangra, but it turned out to be a classical music performance... still perfectly enjoyable.

And I wore the pretty red kurta, just to see what would happen. I went over to the food station to buy a samosa, and this whisper began circulating through the group gathered there -- "She's the one who bought it. She's the one who bought the red kurta." And suddenly people were talking to me, asking me about my trip, telling me about themselves, and offering me free food because I was a "friend of India."

It turns out that I was the only person who bought any of the beautiful kurtas. At the end of the fair they were all sitting on the table just like they were when I first saw them. It seems a shame. I suppose, though, that if any of them sold, it was a good thing for the student group that they were able to sell the prettiest, most expensive one.

And now I have a pretty red kurta to wear in turn with my pretty blue salwar. Soon I will try to post a picture.


Vi said...

A lovely tale. :)

Ash said...

That's nice.

I can understand why they didn't sell too many kurtas. Most American students probably wouldn't be interested in one, and desi students know they can get it waaaay cheaper back home :)

Blue said...

Vi and Ash -- thanks! "Cheaper back home" makes sense. And yet if one were to try to find a pure cotton blouse (desi or western) with hand-stitched embroidery and beadwork at any store in my local mall one would be looking at prices closer to $50 or $60. Which makes $17.50 seem like a steal.

Strange how the economies fall out that way.

Weatherwane said...

just chanced upon your blog - i'm from hyderabad - and for just today i'm wearing a pretty blue salwar too (heh. which is why the title beckoned and i didn't resist) do mail me weatherwane at gmail dot com

suman said...

You know, i've grown up around indian culture and Hyderabadi culture in particular. But I seemed to have gotten callous to it. You conveyed your experience at the internatinal fair wonderfully and seeing the red kurta though your eyes made me enjoy the experience as much as you did. I look forward to visting your blog again.

Blue said...

Thanks, Suman. I'm glad you liked the story.

And Weathervane, I'll write you soon -- now that my show is opened I've got a few more free minutes.

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