Monday morning we went back to Grandpapa's house for a puja (prayer ceremony) to honor a couple of recent birthdays in the family and to celebrate our visit. His house is a seamless blend of indoors and outdoors. There is a small courtyard in the front and most every room has a door that opens to the outside. On the main floor are three bedrooms, a drawing room filled with couches and chairs, a bathroom, a small open dining room, and a small kitchen that mainly seems to be for serving. The refrigerator is not in the kitchen, but out in the dining area. Each bedroom is small, but with enough room for a queen or king sized bed. Other than maybe a chair, that is all the furniture in the bedrooms. Instead of a dresser and/or closets, there are metal cabinets built into one wall for storage. All the floors are made of marble which helps to keep things cool. A set of marble stairs leads up to the roof which is flat and spacious. When it gets very hot, people take cots and sleep on the roof. From the roof, you can look down into the house's interior, walled courtyard. This is where the puja was held. The courtyard also has a marble floor and there is a small second kitchen off of the courtyard which is where the servants do most of the cooking.
The puja was nice, although my multi-cultural kids manage to be equally bored by Jewish and Hindu ceremonies. Interestingly, my participation in a puja is no longer a novelty, but Sarah's friend Becky was fussed over quite a bit.
After lunch there, we split up. Ritu and David went with Ritu's uncle, "Papu", to his jewelry store while the womenfolk went shopping for material to make outfits for the engagement party. Sarah and Becky are both planning to wear saris, while Juliana and I chose lenghas, which are short sleeved tops and long full skirts. We went with my mother in law, her sister, and a 19 year old cousin named Sonum.
Let me try to describe this shopping experience to you. Maybe Juliana's first impression will help. We walked in the door and she said, "Mommy, I don't think this is a store. I think this is a factory." The shop was long and narrow. One whole wall had floor to ceiling glass cabinets stacked with folded lengths of material. (When you buy a sari, it's one size fits all because it's one length of cloth that gets wrapped and pinned. At one end of the cloth is a small section of coordinating fabric and that is what the sari blouse is made from.) Running the length of the cabinets was a low platform on which the salesmen sat crosslegged. Wedged up against the platform were a row of low couches that had seen better days. That's where the customer sits. The store was so narrow that there was barely room for people to walk behind the couches. You squeeze onto a couch and tell the clerk what you are looking for. Maybe you point at some of the fabric in the cabinets. Another guy serves as a runner and reaches down the fabric. The clerk shakes it open in front of you so you can examine it. Probably it's not exactly what you want, so you tell the clerk what colors you're thinking of and how fancy/how much detail you want on the fabric. Suddenly there is fabric flying everywhere. The runner is climbing shelves and gathering stacks of cloth and throwing it to the clerk. Fabric is being shaken out, then pushed aside into a pile after cursory glances. Now, don't forget there are 6 people in our group all loudly discussing what we need. And things are being translated in and out of Hindi. Loudly. And we are only one of 5 or 6 groups doing the same thing at the same time. It's noisy, a little smelly, and visually stunning. Everywhere you look there is a whirlwind of vibrant colors, shiny embroidery, and sparkly accents. Juliana spent some time with her head in my lap and her hands over her ears.
Once we finally made our choices, then negotiating began. Turns out Sonum is a master at this. She named her price, and the storekeeper named his. They argued for awhile, then seemed to agree. Sonum paid her price then walked away. Before she got to the door, the storekeeper started yelling and calling her back. They debated some more, then she gave him more money. I assume they had negotiated a new price between the first two. At this point, everyone is all smiles and the deal is done. Start to finish the whole tme at the store took about 2 hours. I will never look at Nordstrom the same way again.
In the meantime, David and Ritu were at the jewelry shop. It's a small space with glass front counters arranged in a U-shape. Papu showed David all sorts of stones and gems and explained what they were. He has a special display case of not-for-sale items such as a large topaz and big pieces of malachite. He took them all out for David to touch and hold. I don't think David has ever been happier. He soaked in all that info like a sponge and Papu gave him small samples of 6 or 7 stones to take home. Then they went next door to a shop where marble pieces are hand made. The owner is a Muslim man who, amongst other things, exports handmade marble Judaica to New York City and California. David had the whole process of marble working explained to him and chose some marble animals to bring home.
We all met up again around 5 PM at a spot across the river from the Taj Mahal. There was a sidewalk that led to the river bank and we stood there and watched the sun set. It wasn't really a tourist spot, so it wasn't too crowded. There were some women there cutting up the grass or whatever vegetation was sparsely growing on the sandy river bank. They gathered it up into cloth-wrapped bundles that they carried on their heads. The Taj Mahal, needless to say, is breathtaking and I loved that we got this view of it that most people don't get to see.