My young niece recently visited Ahmedabad’s famous shopping street, the Law Gardens. Revati is a budding architect, prolific reader and a writer for the magazine Urban Vaastu. Not the archetype shopper and bargainer, she still brought back bags full of colourful Kutchhi embroidered clothes as well as stories. Thanks Revati, for sharing your experience at the street market.
‘If you think money cannot buy happiness then you do not know where to shop!’ This is a patent phrase every shopaholic is well versed with and more so, believes whole heartedly in it. This happiness intensifies manifold when one buys a particular item at half the quoted price. Welcome to the art of street shopping where the primary requisite is a combination of the sheer skill of bargaining and mammoth patience.
The Law Garden area in the city of Ahmedabad, western India, is a street side shopping haven and a ‘must visit’ for enthusiastic tourists and locals alike. It is an evening market where the shop owners can be seen unpacking and arranging their clothes for display after the sun begins its sluggish journey towards the west. The melancholic sun forms an ideal backdrop for their long grueling evening ahead.
‘Low Garden’ as the area is famously known in the native Gujarathi language offers a variety of Kachchhi embroidery work. This traditional threadwork on fabric is done by the artisans of Kutch, a region in the state of Gujarat and is thus called Kachchhi work. Kutch, lies around 400 km away from the city of Ahmedabad. This beautiful work can be seen on a range of fabrics and an assortment of clothes like ghagras, jackets, blouses and accessories like clutches, slings and slippers to name a few. It also displays stunning ensembles of the popular ghagra choli or chaniya choli, which is a traditional flowing skirt and short blouse, very popularly worn, especially during the Navratri season while playing garba. Garba is the traditional Gujarati dance.
Kutchhi work is usually done on cotton or silk fabric. The embroidery involves the use of silk or woollen thread in fine stitches to create elaborate patterns, and draws its inspiration from romantic, architectural and human motifs, as well as Persian and Mughal arts. The colors used are mainly green, indigo, deep red, black, yellow and ivory. The embroidery is also distinctive in its use of mirrors and beads, placed strategically in between patterns.
History traces the origin of this Kutch embroidery work to mochis, shoemakers who used to work on royal textiles and decorative objects. Over the years it has grown to become an artwork of international repute. Kutchhi embroidery has never lost its sheen and in fact the colorful craft has considerably gained popularity over the years. It has survived owing to the constant influx of new designs and innovations along with new merchandise such as waistcoats, purses, bags, sandals, skirts, scarves and belts. Home furnishings and fashionable attire to suit modern wear also incorporates this embroidery.
Let’s take a look at the street market scenario:
This rich artwork is displayed within tiny (mostly shabby) 8′ by 6′ shops in the Law Garden area. The owner sits on a raised platform which exhibits the entire spectrum of his products. The tarpaulin sheets act as dividers between the shops but one can seldom notice them peeping under the riot of coloured cloth pieces on display. Bewildered? The designs, patterns and colours are so varied and intricate! It becomes difficult to vividly remember the patterns you have purchased or viewed. The floral motifs combine beautifully with lines and geometric and nature inspired forms to create a design with bright hues. An important fact to be borne in mind is that these products at Law Garden are open to bargaining since it is machine work designs and not hand work. The traditional hand worked cloth is understandably expensive and demands a more respectable selling place than a roadside shop. Nonetheless, the machine work products are gorgeous for a person who craves for a piece of Kutchhi ethnicity albeit, on a shoestring budget, in their wardrobe. That is me!
As I began my shopping escapades, I was awestruck with the beauty that man could create on a mere fabric. Each region has its own specialty and it is always undoubtedly worth possessing. I must have appeared an obvious novice to this region, armed with a cap and a water bottle to beat the heat. Finally, after a bit of window shopping, I mustered the courage to actually ask the shopkeeper to show me various clothes and quote the price.
This is where the most entertaining part of the evening began. He quoted a price almost 4 times the reasonable rate and since my face must have registered the shock he quickly added, ” You choose first. Then we will decide the price.” Bemused at his calm authoritative manner I was determined to beat him at his own game. After selecting a certain product we began haggling over the rate. I offered something way below his quoted price and pat came the reply, “Tell a price that even we can afford. This is not possible. Tell me your last price.” This went on for a few minutes after which I gave in and said I was willing to stretch by a hundred rupees. He began packing the dress and I heaved a sigh of relief. Alas, I had emerged victorious against a skilled player who never misses a day of practice. He handed it over and said, “Let’s agree at a price between mine and yours. Give me 400 rupees.” The smug triumphant look disappeared from my face and I succumbed to the fact that I had lost the battle.
However, I repeated the same procedure in all the shops and passed with flying colours a few times. The pleasure one gets after bargaining and finally purchasing a product at a pre-conceived price can seldom be understood by the brand conscious people. The time when you pretend to leave and the owner calls you back to re-negotiate the cost is one of the trickiest part of this charade. If you are not effective in acting your part you will not be called back and that dress or bag which you had set your heart upon cannot be yours! Or else you will have to swallow your pride and walk back to the place and buy it at whatever rate he asks for. However, in any case, this is an experience of its kind and rather entertaining. I must confess that I have never been a shopaholic in my life and detest bargaining and street shopping in the heat.
However, the market at Law Garden seemed to exude a charm that even a person like me could not resist. Thus, I can happily state that after a couple of hours, I had two bags full of clothes and accessories and a third full of MEMORIES.
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