Come April and the Sherpa and I will be making our first trip home since coming to London. It’s been a year and a half – the longest I’ve ever been without seeing my family. Excited doesn’t do justice to how I feel right now. It’s almost as though I’m cocooned by a bubble of elation, floating along with not a care in the world (hey I survived a week of Christmas merriment in March didn’t I?)
Going home requires much thought and preparation. Getting the best deal on your tickets, convincing your boss that 3 weeks is not too much vacation to ask for (oh and could I have a couple of weeks off in June too?), thinking of all the things I’ve been deprived of in London – like my mother’s cooking - and making plans to ensure I get enough of it while I’m in Madras. But if there’s one thing that eclipses all these other tasks it’s The Shopping (we should give it the respect it deserves).
I remember as a child, preparation for our annual vacations back to Madras would begin months in advance. One could always tell that The Shopping season was about to begin when our post box became jammed with blue aerogrammes from India and phone calls from Aunties who had not spoken to us since our last jaunt home, telling us how pleased they were that we were coming and how they couldn’t wait to see us (and our luggage I’m sure)
My mother became the family Santa Claus, getting requests from nieces and nephews. Whether they had been naughty or nice they all got what they asked for. Maybelline announced record breaking quarterly profits and Mattel would have gone bust if it wasn’t for our trips home.
Fast Forward 15 years and one would think there’s no need for the going home shopping anymore. After all, there’s hardly anything you don’t get in India these days. That apparently is not the case. As a friend of mine said ‘everyone from the neighbour's servant to the ball boy at The Mylapore Club must be gavunichified or taken care of’.
Now being a pro-shopper I though it would be a cinch doing The Shopping. So I drew up a list of people that I felt should benefit from my largesse and what would be suitable gifts for each of them. Feeling rather smug about my meticulousness I called my mother the Queen Bee of shopping (and the donor of rather outstanding retail loving genes) and boasted about my list. Our conversation went somewhat like this:
‘Oh but what about so-and-so Aunty?’
‘Her? Why do I have to get her anything?’
‘She gave you a silver lamp when you left for London.’
‘I never got a silver lamp.’
‘Oh that’s because I took it and gave it to so-and-so for their wedding.’
And so the list grew and pretty soon included neighbours who had moved in after I left home, third cousins thrice removed and the corner wino Muniyandi. Armed with the list, the sherpa and I headed out. ‘Remember, stay focused’ the sherpa warned. I scoffed at the suggestion that I may be side tracked from my mission (forgetting how well he knows me).
Temptation was everywhere. I would stroke handbags far too young for my 60 plus Aunt and hold up dresses two sizes too small for my neighbour’s daughter (but just right for me!). My husband joked about putting me on a leash and after an hour had to surgically attach his hand to my upper arm (even a saunter through the lingerie department wouldn’t shake him off – and that always works)
Once my roving eye was under control, we faced another problem. Everything was made in India. And the last thing I wanted was to give someone an overpriced t-shirt made in Tirupur only have them to say to me ‘You could have got this for a fraction of the price in Tirupur!’
We pretty quickly realised that other than very high end fashion and food there’s very little actually made in this country. And seeing that none of our orthodox Tam Brahm relatives would appreciate a leg of lamb, roast beef or a Vivienne Westwood corset we began looking for things made in other ‘phoren’ countries. Vietnam! Thailand! China!
A search that yielded much better results than tartan kilts (though I do think they’d make a rather interesting substitute for lungis).
In the last three weekends we’ve managed to amass a small mountain of cheaply made overpriced goods. Almost every name on our list has been crossed off. With the sole exception of Muiyandi the wino. A bottle of Grey Goose perhaps?