Painful purchasing in Primark versus sublime spending in splendiferous Sarojini Nagar

This Festive Season (notice how politically correct I’m being!) sees two thirds of the Cheesecake trio temporarily back in their British homelands. I had an uneventful journey from Delhi to Heathrow, during which I realised with some embarrassment that I’d already seen ALL of the Hindi films offered as in-flight entertainment, and then took a sleeper train up to Edinburgh. Yes, a sleeper. A British train with beds. But no, there were sadly no samosas and tragically nobody was screeching ‘chaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiii!’ at all hours of the night.

I’m now home safe and sound and there have been no major developments in my fair Scottish city. Oh, except one – we now have a Primark. Slap-bang in the city centre, Edinburgh residents now have access to four floors of morally questionable – but super cheap! – clothes, shoes and accessories. Hurrah. The thing is, though, I haven’t been able to inspect much of this because the shop’s so busy it makes me want to die.

‘But wait!’ you cry. ‘Aren’t you used to shopping in Delhi? To squeezing through the Old City’s bazaars like vacuum-packed sardines, with all those beggars and angry aunties and men with groping hands?’ The answer is yes, of course. But the truth is, shopping in Scotland annoys me much more than shopping in India.

Why? Well, there’s the incessant queuing, for a start. Nothing is more frustrating than standing in a line for hours – often while being simultaneously aurally assualted by pre-recorded blastings of ‘cashier number six please!’ – when all you’re buying is a pair of socks. Then there’s the customers with children. Either they run around demolishing everything, or they sit screaming in gigantic pushchairs (or ‘travel systems’ as I believe they are now amusingly called) which take up entire aisles. Staff are trained to be sickeningly friendly, even though the falseness is almost always obvious, and shops are now getting so big that you’re not just confused anymore; you’re actually lost.

Shopping in Delhi’s markets is less mechanical and much more human. One of my absolute favourite places in the city is Sarojini Nagar market, where factory rejects (of well-known Western brands; even Primark, actually) end up in great, crumpled heaps, waiting to be discovered – and ironed – by bargain-loving, but fashion-conscious, Delhiwallahs like yours truly. Sure, it’s busy, and yes, there are plenty of screaming children and a few lurking gropers, but the atmosphere is fun and the stallholders are enthusiastic and – mostly – genuinely friendly; powered by paan and regular refils of garma garam chai.

‘Woh wala dikhaana’ – ‘show me that one,’ is the line to use. The stallholder will then take a comically long metal pole to lift the garment at which you’re pointing (on its coathanger) and hand it to you for inspection. He will use encouraging English phrases like ‘size good, madam’ and ‘very nice quality’ and then inform you that the price is 250 rupees. You will scoff in mock disgust and, with a pained expression, tell that stallholder that you’ll offer him a hunded bucks, and not a rupee more. Then, after a minute of two of dramatised arguing, you’ll most probably receive a hefty discount and be handed your purchase in a small  polythene bag. Then you’ll move on to the next stall and repeat the script.

Of course, for some people, this kind of shopping will sound terribly time- and energy-consuming, but I suppose it depends on what you’re used to. I admit that Delhi markets not only terrified me in the beginning, but they completely boggled my mind – there was so much language and acting required for each transaction that shopping was quite an ordeal.  But now the impromptu conversations are a fun part of the experience, and as well as the bags of bargains, you come home with a satisfying sense of achievement too.

So I’m glad I did my Christmas shopping in Delhi because there’s no way I’ll be braving the high street in this city! And by the time the January sales are underway I’ll be safely back on Indian soil. Yay.

PS Merry Christmas, lovely readers!

(Photo borrowed from Toastwife, via Flickr)