My father in the land of pashminas
February 26, 2009
My neighbour is Kashmiri and trades in pashmina shawls.
To his credit, his stuff is fabulous. Nothing like what you might find in emporiums or five star hotels. After years in India and many, many shawls in my drawers, I had never seen such extraordinary work.
The textures are simply heavenly, the colors, subtle, and the embroidery incredibly delicate. Pale pink on beige, cream on lilac. He sells to wealthy Indians who appreciate the quality of his maal (stuff). His number circulates among high-profile businessmen. He doesn’t care about foreigners, especially since the global crisis has struck our shopping endeavours to a crushing halt.
I had friends over who were looking for beautiful shawls, so I asked my neighbour whether he minded showing them a few.
In came a storm. Piles and piles of shawls. His wife. Very, very sweet. Cardamon tea. Very sweet too. For two exhausting hours, he took over my place.
His English was supposedly bad, so instead of sneaking out to my room, I had to stay and translate. After ten minutes, I decided what he needed wasn’t a translator, it was a Valium.
He spoke non stop. In broken English, Kashmiri, Hindi. Or rather, he’d grunt and blabber and mumble until suddenly he’d grab my friend’s arm and bark: “DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!”. Every time, my friend looked petrified, and I was in splits.
A cunning salesman, he’d keep mixing up the prices, quoting us $ 200 and the next minute $ 350, for the same shawl.
We’d ask him about one particular shawl. Instead of answering, he’d grab another one and start blabbering about it.
Wicked. I watched in awe. I learned a lot.
Finally, my friends bought three shawls. I’ll spare you the bargaining, long, strenuous and emotionally draining.
Before he left, I asked, as a joke, what would my commission be. He looked around the mountains of priceless shawls and took one from underneath a pile. It was a small, narrow piece of crappy merino wool which he probably used to tie shawls together.
“Here, take, beta, this is my gift to you”, he said.
I handed it back to him, a hand on my heart:
” Thank you so much, I said. But I cannot accept it. This shawl is your business, you must keep it.”
He looked utterly relieved. His eyes wet, he told me….
but do I need to say it?
Of course, he told me…
I was like his daughter.
What’s. With. The. Father. Thing?