Friday, February 29, 2008


If shopping is your favourite sport, here’s some handy hints, to facilitate and enrich your retail experience, in Mumbai.
Whether it’s the big Shoppers Stop in the mall, or the pocket-sized Haiko on the corner of your block, before you’re allowed across the threshold, expect to have your already-shopping confiscated, in exchange for a token. I find this offensive, at first, because it intimates that I look shifty, like one inclined to pilfer, whereas I have zero intention of making off with so much as an illicit incense cone. Then it seems like a great idea, to be disencumbered ready for a fresh onslaught. The drawback is, when you trade in your token on the way out, you have twice as much shopping as you can carry. This is where having a Monu is critical.
Once safely in the shop, you have to run the gauntlet of the fleet of eager assistants, calling out their wares. They probably did their training in Portobello Road. In the perfume section alone, twenty-six salespersons beckon, atomisers poised, from behind the counter. Belt to their braces, an additional sprinkling of allies roams loose on the shop-floor, enticing currently fragrance-free customers to try, then buy. At first, I feel politeness-bound to explain to each one, that I’m not in the market for men’s trousers, or that I have a pressure-cooker at home, or that I’m already wearing perfume, but this rapidly shows signs of using up my whole life, so I resort to smiling retreat, with a tiny regretful shake of the head. Try it.
If you want to see what you look like in a salwar-kurta confection, don’t ask for the changing-room, it’s called the Trial Room. How appropriate is that? Well, if you’re a size 6, and you never have to lie on the floor to fasten your jeans, you may not understand. So I’m in the Trial Room, seeing about the salwar-kurta (very forgiving, by the way, like glamorous pyjamas), and when I emerge, there are two giggling assistants, waiting to pounce. Their arms are laden with a heap of other clothes I might like to try. (One of them’s brought a green combo, does she not know me at all?) “See, you like this cloth, Madame? Is perfect size for you!... Or we alter?” – If you hand a thing over for alteration, it’s ready practically before you’ve got your own t-shirt back on. The more items you dismiss, the more alacritous they are in finding alternatives. They take the word tenacious, turn it inside-out, then give it a good shake and a new zip. I’m speechless with admiration. It’s not going to happen in Next, is it, or in Dorothy Perkins? In my experience, home-grown shop assistants are too busy analysing their love-lives, or dissecting Big Brother, to actually shop-assist any tentative customers.
I go to the Culture Shop, to panic-buy a few shawls before my trip home, and a young man scoots across from wall-hangings and paintings to collect me. “See, Madame - Ganesh!” he says. It’s not religious fervour, he’s not trying to convert me - the last time I came in here, there was a bit of an elephant theme going on, in my trolley, and he’s remembered. “New stock!” he says, with a flourish. What salesmanship – it works, though, I add another model to my collection – it’s blue, and it’s an elephant, what more do you want?

This has to be my favourite shop in the whole world. Which mercantile genius thought of having a chandelier shop in the open, under the trees, on the main road? Monu now slows down when we pass by, we don’t even have to ask. The overwhelming majority of Mumbaikers live in two-lakh houses, or small apartments, or on the pavement, so where is this man’s market? Suppose you were rupee-rich, would you buy a chandelier for your ballroom at the roadside? I think you should. Here’s to effrontery, hope, and surrealism, up a gum-tree.