The first tip to safe Indian Terrain travels would be, always carry a spare jeans. Only if you’re a girl, you would truly understand the difficulty of wearing denim/jeans and you’d prefer to wear leggings or Indian Salwars instead. My idea of sophistication would be, to cut out on the salwar part and concentrate on collecting ethnic Kurthis to match leggings.
It has been nearly a month now, since my great North Indian tour ended. One of the incidents that happened there repeats inside my head pretty often now. It would be at a United Colors of Benetton Outlet at Dharamshala. As you know, Dharamshala, was once the home of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama when he fled Tibet and took refuge in India. There are tons of Buddhist Monastries and Worship Centers in and around Dharamshala and Mcleodganj.
So when it comes to clothes, I choose dark colours so I can blend in easily and not look like a pretty-girly version. I was very shallow about picking clothes and stuffed whatever I could for a rough train journey and then a tiring mountain trip. Turns out that one pair of jeans would not be sufficient.
I had to wear the same pair of jeans for 4 days straight, all in the same time, the dress started to become smelly and I couldn’t find a laundry store nearby. So, my parents decided to take me shopping in the quaint old town of Dharamshala with its narrow roads and rusty tour buses. If you’re from the plains and you’re somewhat stranded on a mountain range, always catch a local transportation to go to nearby places. It could be a kilometre or two far, but trust me, you can never walk the distance as easily like the locals.
The sun was setting by the time we reached a close hairpin bend. Huge trucks and lorries descended and we were hastening our walk so we don’t get rammed over by some heavy vehicle. My parents accompanied me on the insurmountable climb( which is pretty short and steep) along a local gas station and reached the flat top of the hill. We were huffing and gasping for air as well as received confused looks from the surrounding folk. The Outlet stood recluse on the market side of the township. Men were returning from a hard day’s labour and women stood near bus stops selling freshly cut vegetables and plucked flowers. There were a couple of soldiers stationed nearby and watched over the crowd as the buses aligned one after the other in the busy bazaar. We had to do a small hike to the outlet as it was situated at a higher platform as compared to the other shops and my mother complained that she would have rather stayed in her hotel room than take this torture with me.
United Colours Of Benetton. – The name read and I stared at it before my dad urged to get inside the shop.
I was greeted with bold eyebrows and pale green eyes who asked me in a Himachali Hindi what I was looking for in there. I should mention that I am not a very good speaker of the language myself and survived the entire tour confusing strangers with my broken Hindi and landing us in moderate trouble. “Kya Aapke pass, jeans hai?” (Do you have jeans here).. ? [As if I entered the wrong store].
The man understood that I was not a north Indian and it was evident because my parents were mumbling in Tamil. He began, “Yes, Ma’am. This way.” He guided and took me to a glass shelf and picked a jeans for my size. “Will this fit? It is 34??” I sounded alarm.
The AC was not a big hit there and I could tell you this, no matter how cool it is outside, you’re gonna feel sweaty inside your clothes. The man held a pair of jaded jeans in his hand and began,
“Ye aapka size hai. Ye acha lagega.” (this is your size and it will look good on you) he said and smiled. His eyes were so convincing that I didn’t counterfeit him and took the jeans and vanished into the dressing room. My mother kept checking several hoodies and was convinced she didn’t like it because you can never wear a hoodie in Chennai’s heat. Since it was a proper fit, I didn’t have much thought to give into. I returned back from the dressing room and told my mother that it fit me exactly. Horror struck her face! “How could it be? You buy your jeans at 36 right? How come 34 fits you?” she told me in Tamil. Everyone looked at us and I didn’t know what to say to her. I noticed my father smirk behind a couple of stalls. I began, “You can see me wear it then. We’ll compare.” I went straight to the green-eyed guy and asked him for the next size. “Ye company product ma’am. Isme koi problem nehi aagyega. Agar Aapko doosri size chahiye to, me de doongi. Aap compare kar lo”, (This is a company product Ma’am. You will not have a problem in this. If you want another size, I will give that and you can compare them.) he said in a half-alarmed tone. His eyes glistened once again and I cursed why men never had such pretty eyes in Chennai.
I took both the sizes and my mother to the dressing area. I tried both the outfits and took my mother’s approval for the 34 size and forwarded to pay the bill.
The guy at the billing counter was probably incharge of the store in that locality. He was man in his mid-thirties with an unshaved beard spiking through the pores on his face. He wore red glasses and a checked blue shirt and looked at a computer screen. I could see the digits he was typing on the screen from the reflection on his glasses. He looked stoic and smiled a little when he told me the numbers. The green-eyed man returned with a fresh pair of jeans and placed it in a duffel bag. He began, “Aap kahan se aaye ho?” (Where are you from). I replied, “Chennai.” Both of them looked confused and they remembered a recent movie called Chennai Express staring famous Bollywood faces flash into their mind. “Haan! Madras.” He replies and my whole face shrunk with disappointment.
I reach for the door and my father talks in fluent English to two men who can’t understand English about clothing choices of Teenagers and I stand outside in the cold evening and watch the people who look at me astonished. I realised people are always going to call South Indians as Madrasis even if we don’t like it. It’s a tag almost everyone of us earn. No matter how qualified and good we are, we are always going to be that, ‘dark-skinned, curly haired, brainiac’ to them.
Those eyes spoke more vividly than the language I could not have understood. He stood behind the glass doors and looked as we descended down the road and he swiped the doors clean. I was impaled and troubled at the same time, but I figured I am never going to see those guys again and I shouldn’t fret much. We walked quietly in mute conversation and I took to my dad’s phone and pictured a silhouette of pine trees in the hills. And as it was getting darker and the blue funk settled in, I walked along dry hedgerows and stamped over leaves that crunched with every footstep placed on them. This was just the beginning of such harsh realities I might have to face and wondered how college life would be in a North Indian State.