Be like Natasha. Make your heart happy
I want to introduce you to Natasha. I'm sure it's not her given birth name but many Indian merchants will change their name to a more western sound to appeal to foreigners. I wish they didn't of course. Goa is a popular destination for Russian tourists so I am sure that is the basis for her name change!
I was in Mapusa market one afternoon, looking for a place to sit and have a coffee or chai. The sun was in its full expression and i was hot and sweating. The smells of Indian spices pierced the thick air; cumin, garam masala, mint, and cardamom and the density of the crowd of people - feeling like they all wanted a something from me - felt oppressive.
Suddenly I heard a voice to my right "You have lovely hair madam." I turned to see a round face smiling brightly to me. "Thank you." I smiled back and kept walking. From the all the humidity and the dirt my hair felt less than stellar but, I know this trick. A nice compliment, a casual conversation and then she'll slip in an invitation to come and look at her shop. So, after I responded kindly to her compliment I looked straight ahead and kept walking. But, the smiling woman kept speed with me and she asked what I was looking for. "Coffee" I declared. "I really want to sit and have a coffee or a chai."
"I know best place madam. Come, follow me."
She smiled so big and beautifully that I just gave in to the fact that I was going to fall for this one and I would eventually check out her shop.
So, I followed her and she took me to the exact kind of place I wasn't looking for but then I remembered, 'I'm not in the US anymore'. It was packed with locals on their lunch break eating heavily fried samosas and soupy daal fry and rice with their hands. I took a seat in a booth opposite two young guys who barely raised a glance from their food, at me. The cold looking, brown/beige and metal restaurant was as local as I could possibly find, of course this is where she would take me.
I ordered a Chai. No point taking chances on the coffee. It would be a weak scoop of instant coffee in hot milk with too much sugar. It would be the same thing with the Chai; hot, milky and sweet but at least I wouldn't expect anything else.
I had wanted a few minutes on my own, to have a break from people and to enjoy a coffee but personal time doesn’t exist in India. There is no room for privacy or time out, no one wants that. I expected that Natasha would show me this place and then linger outside until I emerged, where she would trail me again and encourage me to look at her shop.
But, Natasha was bolder than most. She just slid into the booth next to me and said. “I sit and wait. You drink Chai, then we go my shop for looking. Only looking madam. Looking is free.” She was a sly one, young Natasha.
So much about traveling through India easily comes in the form of detachment. You just have to give up expectation of an outcome, or attachment to the way you would do things and work with what you have got. After four years of traveling here I have learnt from this experience time and time again.
I was in the market to source fabric for some designs I wanted made up. I had ridden my scooter in the hot afternoon sun for 45 minutes and arrived at the dense marketplace which was heady with aromas and heavy with noise and pollution. There are many shops selling good textiles, many that are selling expensive and low quality. Some sell fabrics only for sarees, others just sell trim, and some specialize in lace of all kinds and tart, cheap lycra. It's hard to pick through it all and keep your sanity in the heat and chaos.
Getting local information is actually what you need but it can come at a risk of people just sending you to their friends. That afternoon I had resigned to hustling through the day to find what I needed; after a relaxing cup of coffee....of course!
I agreed to visit Natasha's shop. She was kind and was selling shawls and scarves from Kashmir. Beaming with pride, she led the way to her stall; a low lying table covered in plastic tarp. Barely a store at all. Humble to say the least. She pulled out a low stool and made me sit and then presented me with shawl after shawl; 100% silk, silk & wool blend, 100% wool, pure pashmina. Her loot was not uncommon stuff, I had seen some merchants selling most of what she had. But, Natasha was kind and open-hearted. She talked of her family, she was my age (39) with four kids. She lives in Gujarat in the off season and does business in Goa during the busy tourist season. She hates her mother in law because she doesn't support Natasha sending her children to school. She wants the young children to work with Natasha and her husband. So, while they are in Goa she and her husband work hard so that they can send their kids to school and since the M.I.L is a few states away, she can't do anything about it. She doesn't want her daughter to end up like her. She wants more opportunities for all of her children.
We talked and talked and she continued to lay out more shawls. I came across a few pieces that I hadn't seen from other merchants and we ended up making good business together.
This is where everything could have ended and we could have each continued on with our day; she looking for another girl she could compliment and me looking for the bathroom (that Chai!) and textiles. But, Natasha was not having it. "What you need now, my friend?"
"I need to shop for fabrics for clothing."
"Come, I take you. I show you best shops my friend."
"No, thank you Natasha, you should stay here with your stall and do some business."
"My friend. I help you first, business will come. You help me with good business. I help you. It make my heart happy. This is important."
Ah, India! You make my heart happy so many times.