Yakmina!

Those that have been regular readers of this blog have known my disappointment about finding Majnu ka Tilla closed the first time I went to visit. We’ve been planning another visit ever since and this time, the Cheesecake trio was bang on target! We were very ambitious, as the plan was to have breakfast, head towards Sarojini Nagar market, and then go all the way northwards to have me visit MkT.

So, after a lovely brunch of M-made Poha, we auto-ed down to Sarojini. Sunday winter afternoon frenzy had begun by the time we got there. In between trying to fix a toaster that didn’t need fixing and shopping for ridiculously cheap clothes, I managed to find myself a beautiful set of teacups from this crockery shop.

We reached MkT in the late afternoon. For those still unacquainted with the place, it is a Tibetan colony/market near the north campus of DU. There are narrow alleyways lined with “Free Tibet” posters and crammed with shops that sell incense to silver jewellery and silk fabrics to Yakmina! S and I got shawls made out of 100% Yak’s wool, making them heavier and bigger than the Pashminas we’re used to. How exciting, we thought! Cake and coffee followed, as we made ourselves cozy in a cafe in one corner of the market. The ambience of the place is very similar to North-eastern India, it’s not like being in the heart of Delhi at all. Even the kind of music that played in the eateries here is different. Another cafe that we stopped at had pictures of ‘Tintin in Tibet’ framed on their walls! We (over)stuffed ourselves with delicious chowmein/flat noodles/thukpa. It is indeed, as I had been told, a charming place…

A very satisfying day, I mused, on my metro ride back, laden with teacups and a massive shawl, and a present for V. Never a dull moment with my Cheesecake girlies…

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)