You’d think that the adventures of Holi proper were enough for any good travel storyteller, but that day was not over yet.
As we’d expected, most of the city was closed for the holiday. We mentioned to Shiva that we wanted to do some shopping, and he said he knew of a few stores that would be open in the evening (because of course). So, showered, de-powdered, but still stained pink, orange, and green; we met Shiva outside our haveli at 5:00 to stimulate the local economy.
Our first stop was a jewelry store. I picked out some earrings and a ring, Justin some gifts for friends, and Jason some bracelets to secure his status as the Favorite Uncle. The store owner was pleasant and chatty and the bartering was friendly. He liked us so much, he declared, that he was going to give us gifts. He ducked behind a counter and rummaged through a basket, then presented each of us with our very own rock.
“Uncut [name of gem I can’t recall]!” he said beaming as he held my new rock up to the light. It was …a rock. But we cooed over them and thanked him for the gifts like the polite Americans we are. If nothing else, we figured, surely our new rocks would bring spiritual enlightenment and guidance, as we saw the hippies using similar rocks in their meditations at Machu Picchu. Jason demonstrated their use later that night for Justin:
You can just sense the zen, can’t you?
Our next stop was a fabric store for textiles. Jason was on the lookout for whatever the next trend in Elle Decor will be, having successfully purchased items on previous trips months before they showed up in the magazine; and I was looking for fabric for bedroom curtains.
One of the workers met us outside the store when Shiva parked the tuk-tuk. He greeted us formally with a “Namaste” and a bow, then immediately launched into a well-rehearsed explanation and demonstration of block printing.
Having educated us on the process and told us all about the hard-working women who make these fabrics in small villages such as the one he’s from (naturally), he led us inside.
The small room was packed with layers and layers of fabric. We dove in and soon Jason was climbing up counters to find just the right pattern:
while Justin sorted through tablecloths and I was shown sari after sari. None of the saris were the right colors or patterns I wanted for curtains, and I turned down the salesman’s many requests for me to “just try one on!” I looked over the bolts of fabric that stretched from floor to ceiling all around us, but found no inspiration for curtains. I did, however, find inspiration when I overheard the salesman trying to convince Justin for the fifth time that he should get a custom-made suit.
I started sorting through the silks and cottons to look for skirt and/or dress material. Summer’s coming, after all, so it’s about time for some non-costume sewing projects. When the salesman saw that my goals had changed, he hopped right on the new sale, complimenting my taste in fabrics at every chance he found. I was just doing the yardage calculations in my head when he mentioned that they could make me a skirt in two hours.
“Two hours?” I asked.
“Yes,” he assured me eagerly. “Or a dress overnight!”
Custom-made clothes overnight? Why not? I firmly tucked away the pioneer voices in my head who protested, “You could make these yourself!” and decided to get me some clothes.
After a lot of fabric sorting, some browsing through their catalog of dress designs (which had less variety than promised, given that they were all in the Indian tunic style), and making a couple of sketches for the salesman to explain what I was thinking; I was perched on a stool next to a pile of fabric, waiting for the tailor to measure me.
|Eventually, the navy/white one on the far left became a dress, the blue/black a knee-length skirt, and the white/multi-colored floral a flared long skirt.
The tailor was wrapping up with another customer and my salesman drifted back over to Jason and Justin, who had covered the other side of the store with pillow covers in their indecision. I was flipping through Holi photos on my phone when another store worker sat down next to me. He had been hovering during my shopping, offering opinions on the fabrics I was considering. His opinions were not the most useful since they all consisted of, “Very beautiful fabric! Made even more beautiful by you!” but I was amused by his tactics.
“Where are you from?” he asked, friendly-like. We started chatting about the usual traveler topics – America? Where? Oh, Colorado! That’s near the Grand Canyon, right? He laid on the charm a bit, but not nearly as much as before. Nor was it anything like what came next.
“I’m Sattar,” he said.
“Amanda,” I responded.
“You are very beautiful,” he said. “Are you here with your…” he looked over at Jason and Justin, earnestly discussing the merits of a pillow cover with an embroidered gold elephant on it, “…boyfriends?”
“No,” I said, “Just friends.”
“Ah,” he said knowingly. “Boyfriend back home.”
“Husband?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“No, no husband,” I replied.
“No husband, no boyfriend?” he repeated aghast. “How can this be? You are so beautiful!”
I wasn’t entirely sure how to respond to that one. I shrugged.
“You are!” he said, getting more passionate. “You are so beautiful! How do you not have a boyfriend?”
“If I knew why, I’d have one,” I said with an awkward laugh, really uncertain now how I was supposed to respond to comments like that. Happily, we were interrupted by the tailor coming to take my measurements.
I was a bit distracted, though, since while the tailor measured me and we held up my fabric choices to my waist to discuss skirt lengths, Sattar stood directly behind the tailor. Whenever I happened to make eye contact, he’d mouth the words, “Beautiful! You’re so beautiful!” at me with exaggerated deliberateness.
Measurements were taken and pickup arranged, and I rejoined the boys on the other side of the room. They had wrapped up their purchases as well and were chatting with the original salesman. I found out later that this chatting was strikingly similar to Jason’s conversations with Mose when we visited him and Faye in Chincoteague. Apparently, the salesman had abruptly launched into some “guy talk” by telling a series of jokes that were so inappropriate, I could only get one of them out of Jason afterwards.
Having finished our fabric shopping and, at least on my part, turned down the 14th offer to try on a sari; the salesman naturally revealed that they also sell spices! We should come next door and take a look!
Jason and Justin were roped in against their protests. I had declined the spice tour offer earlier, and oddly, the salesmen didn’t push me on it. I suspect there may have been some behind-the-scenes conspiring, since Jason and Justin were whisked quickly out of the store and I found myself alone with Sattar and the tailor.
The tailor was busy behind the counter measuring and cutting my fabric. Sattar flipped over the “Open” sign on the door and circled the room, turning off the main lights. We were left in a soft yellow glow of the desk lamp where the tailor worked, and Sattar sat down on the couch. “Come, sit,” he said, patting the cushion next to him. “We’ll talk heart to heart.”
Feeling a mixture of amusement at the situation and annoyance that Jason and Justin were so oblivious that they didn’t even realize they had abandoned me to be seduced by an older man (“Ha!” Jason exclaimed later. “I didn’t even notice!” thus proving once again that any comfort my mother derives from the thought that at least I’m traveling with men who could protect me is woefully mislaid); I sat down on the opposite end of the couch.
“Amanda,” he began quite seriously, “I am worried about you.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“I can tell that you are very strong here,” he tapped his forehead, in between his eyebrows. “You are very strong in your head chakra, but your heart chakra,” he paused, shaking his head in sorrow, “that is very weak.”
“Okay…” I said. “How can you tell?”
“I can tell,” he said, looking at me with a c’mon-we-both-know-that-I’m-right kind-of look. “I can tell that you have been hurt here.” He patted his chest over his heart.
I gave him a c’mon-we-both-know-I’m-not-buying-this kind-of look.
Sattar scooched closer, took my hand, and lowered his voice. “I can tell that you have been hurt in your heart.” He paused dramatically, looked down at my hand, then back up into my eyes. “You have been physically intimate with many, many men, and it has hurt your heart.”
I bit my lips to keep from laughing out loud and shook my head.
“No?” he asks, confused.
“Nope,” I said.
“Ah, then some men. Your last boyfriend. You gave yourself to him physically and he hurt you.”
“Nope,” I said again. “That didn’t happen.”
“Then why did you break up?”
I decided, as I often have to do, to stick with the parts of the assumptions that are easiest to explain. “It just…” I shrugged, “… didn’t work.”
“Because you were physical with him and with so many other men.” He patted my hand sympathetically like the best confidant ever.
“No…” I said, really starting to wonder what exactly it was about me that gives off such whorish vibes. Time for cliches. “We just wanted different things.”
“I don’t understand,” Sattar said, hurt evident in his expression. “Why would he let you go? You are so beautiful! Why wouldn’t any man want you? They should be lining up for you back home.”
Again, this was a comment that I had no idea how to respond to. Sattar decided to return to his main point. “Your heart chakra and your head chakra are not in balance,” he said, releasing my hand to illustrate his statement with gestures. “Your heart is full of hurt because you have been physical with many men.” He looked at me for confirmations of his recap.
I shook my head.
He tried again. “Because you were physical with your boyfriend back home?”
I shook my head again.
Guess #3: “He left you because you would not be physical with him?”
“No,” I said, starting to wonder what the crap was keeping Jason and Justin. Were they actually buying the spices?
“You have not been physical with any men?” Sattar asked, sounding the most incredulous yet. I decided we were done playing Guess My Sex Life.
“How do I fix my heart chakra?” I asked.
“Ah!” Sattar said, straightening up again. “For this, there is a mantra. I will tell you this mantra, and you must repeat it every morning. Can you take one minute for yourself every morning to fix your heart?”
I dutifully agreed that I could, and he insisted that I pull out my phone to write down the mantra. “Om shani deiwai namah,” he repeated, reading my notes over my shoulder to make sure I took it down correctly. “Repeat this every morning and you will begin to heal. You can also come back to India to heal. Do you like India?”
I assured him honestly that I did.
“Good,” he said. “You come back to India and you text me and I will take you to my village and will help you heal.”
“You’ll show me your village?” I asked to clarify.
“You will come to my village and stay with me,” he said confidently.
“What about your wife?” I asked.
He looked surprised. “My wife?”
“Aren’t you married?” I asked, taking a shot. “You showed me a picture of your son earlier.”
He laughed. “My wife is happy,” he assured me. “You can come to my village.”
To my relief, the door opened and the boys came in. They didn’t seem to take any particular notice of the mood lighting or Sattar’s proximity to me on the couch. The salesman gestured for them to sit on the floor and called for their assistant to bring in some tea. We tried to decline, but we were not getting out of there without tea.
It was actually very good tea – lemon with the right kind of spices for my taste, and we chatted as a group. I cannot for the life of me recall what we talked about, probably because I was still trying to figure out what makes me seem so promiscuous.
As we finally began to extract ourselves from the shop, a group photo was called for. I had my phone out, so I directed the men to group together to get a picture:
|From left to right: the tailor, Shiva, Justin, Jason, Sattar, the original salesman, and the assistant
As I checked the photo I had taken, one of the men called out, “Who is the most handsome?”
They laughed, and I shook my head, laughing. “I can’t answer that!”
They called out protests at my dodging until the assistant figured out the right answer and proudly announced – “You!” he gestured at me. “You are the most handsome!”
The men affectionately ruffled his hair and chuckled at his smoothness. “Beautiful,” Sattar corrected. “Not ‘handsome.’ She is beautiful.”
My phone buzzed the next morning over breakfast. I looked at the screen and snorted.
“What is it?” Jason asked.
“Sattar,” I said. “I made him a contact on WhatsApp in case there’s a problem with picking up my clothes.” I showed them my phone.
It buzzed again.
Oh, dear. I decided to send him the group photo, another reason he insisted we should be contacts. He was quick to respond:
I ignored the text. He sent me this:
He sent me my own profile picture. I was confused, but his next message confused me more:
A bedazzled elephant sleeping on a blue rose? Okay….
I decided to stick with my plan to ignore the texts. To my relief, Sattar wasn’t there when we picked up the clothing at the shop that afternoon, and soon we were on our way to Agra. The next morning, my phone buzzed again:
And the next day:
And the day after that:
I started to wonder if he just keeps a slew of “Good Morning” bling photos on his phone.
I continued to ignore his texts, only feeling a little guilty about my disregard of social etiquette. After all, he’s friendly, highly entertaining, and truly seems to have my best interests at heart.
My slutty, slutty heart.