by Vimala Ramu
One major attraction in visiting a foreign country was certainly the shopping part. Though sightseeing also occupied a major part of our schedule, well maintained tourist spots with their stereotyped gift shops selling mementoes and T shirts would pall after some time; but not shopping.
True, the ardor did somewhat come down during our subsequent visits. But our first visit to US was remarkable in the way we tried to buy up the whole of US, if such a thing were possible.
I know that the foreigners also do display a similar enthusiasm to shop when they visit our country, going ga-ga over our artifacts, silks, wooden elephants etc. But it is nothing compared to what we felt in America. The ready-to-wear stuff attractively stacked in the shops- mostly ‘Made in China’ (we even spotted a few ‘Made in Bangladesh’ ‘Made in Pakistan’ and even ‘Made in India) cast a spell on us. Being on a long 4-month holiday with all the time at our disposal and the rich foreign exchange just begging to be spent, the scenario seemed nothing short of Alibaba’s cave. With our hosts in different parts of US eager to drive us to the malls as often as we wanted, it was a veritable spree.
Strangely enough, in the beginning, we would hesitate a bit to buy certain things, mentally converting the dollars to rupees and wondering at the enormous amount we had to pay for such small stuff. But, this would never happen in the case of garments. We of course kept to what we thought as ‘middle class’ shops such as K mart, Sears, J.C Penney, Costco, Gap etc. The discovery of ‘Ross’ where the rejects, seconds and surplus, outdated stuff from the highly priced brands would be dumped , was almost like finding a gold mine and suited our economy minded Indian mindset very well. Apart from the mandatory gifts to all in the extended family, we would always be trying to buy dresses for our pretty little granddaughters.
Our daughter-in-law Sarah would never tire of taking us or dropping us at the malls and the leading shops. After we came back from shopping, she would even take pleasure in going through our purchases. Once I saw a half page advertisement in a local newspaper flaunting ridiculously low prices. I chided Sarah (gently of course) for not telling us about such a shop earlier. She seemed quite reluctant to take us there. But, we prevailed on her and she came with us with such an uncustomary dour expression. The shop, more of a warehouse, with no glossy shop front and attractively stacked stuff and tucked in a back lane looked very bleak and strange to me. There were a few trousers of different colours and sizes hanging from a horizontal rod on a stand and a few coats kept singly in a shelf. And as compared to the shops we had been frequenting till then, there were hardly any customers.
Still, attracted by the ridiculously priced items, my husband was about to try on a coat. Sarah, who was standing indifferently till then at a distance (probably not wanting to be seen in such a shop) hurried to him and whispered, “These are all already worn and used stuff”. We were shocked! Surely our famed Indian ‘Poverty’ did not sink so low as to purchase stuff from a second hand shop! I asked her, “Why didn’t you tell us earlier?” She said, “I thought you knew what was meant by a THRIFT SHOP”. Well, in India, when we say ‘Thrift’, we go by the dictionary meaning and certainly not second hand stuff. No wonder Sarah was so reluctant to take us there. Every thing about the shady shop fell into place and we beat a hasty retreat.
If I may jog your memory, after the Tsunami, we were told that even the victims insisted on new clothes and not the handed downs. After all, in our country one of the main rituals of Diwali is wearing ‘new’ clothes.
Huh, THRIFT SHOP indeed!