INDIA: AN AMAZING FESTIVAL OF CULTURE AND SPIRIT
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
May 23, 2012
Kanwal Prakash Singh
India is an ancient civilization and for centuries has been a gateway to the winds of cultures, creativity, and ethnic influences that came across the Northwest Frontiers by land, and entered by sea along the hundreds of miles of stretch of the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal that borders India’s southern borders. Each invading force, occupier, ruler, and visitor has left their own unmistakable imprint on India’s arts and architecture, crafts and culture, spirit and character, fashions and festivals. India is one of the most diverse, complex, and fascinating country on the planet where outrageous opulence and crushing poverty, immense serenity and maddening onslaughts on the senses coexist.
Each visit helps me see India through a new lens: this sub-continent’s myriad intriguing facets and breathtaking dimensions. During our two-week trip to India in March, our focus remained on family, but we did take time to nurture our spirit with shopping and pilgrimages to several Sikh shrines in Punjab and Delhi. Let me take you on my shopping journey:
AMAZING AND DAZZLING VARIETY
Indian shops are full of an amazing variety every day, special occasion, and fanciful offerings to dazzle the senses. What some places may lack in display or space limitations, the Punjabi shopkeepers or salespersons make up in enthusiasm, serving as a fashion model to entice you to consider their products’ quality, value, and craftsmanship. They work hard to attract and deserve attention. There is always an offer of tea, coffee, or cold drink to make you feel welcome. In the Government emporiums and in some places there is no price break; many accept charge cards; the majority of shop owners are happy to bargain the final price to make a sale.
WEDDING DRESSES, TURBAN MART, AND SHERWANIS
Whether it was at Nilibar Fashion Shop (www.nilibar.com), in Ludhiana, Punjab, where the latest fashions in saris, Punjabi suits, and heavily brocaded and jeweled wedding dresses are on parade; the crowded shops in Chaura Bazaar, a narrow long shopping street with lots of side alleys lined with mini-shops at several levels. We visited Middha Garments, specializing in suits and sherwanis; Pali Di Hatti and Amandeep Traders (turban marts), located in Karimpura Bazar (thousands of turbans were available in every color under the sun and a wide array of designs/ patterns to suit every style and taste). We saw no recession; people often paid cash. People seem to have graduated from strictly need-based shopping to keeping up with the latest fashion trends, reflecting the growth of India’s affluent class. The merchants are very willing to oblige this welcome change by offering the choice and range of products to please customers.
Ludhiana is a major city, with a population of 1.5 million, in the Punjab, about 250 miles northwest of New Delhi, India’s capitol. We stayed in the older congested part of the City, which today, is surrounded by sprawling suburbs dotted with several Western-style shops and malls.
FIVE STAR LUXURY CITADEL
In New Delhi, we stayed near the shopping heart of the capitol, The Connaught Place, at Le Méridien Hotel (http://www.starwoodhotels.com/lemeridien/index. html). Le Méridien is a five star hotel with contemporary amenities and conveniences sought by tourists who want to experience safety. The hotel features restaurants with delicious culinary offerings including a less formal restaurant, The One, and The Monsoon Restaurant for formal private dining; a coffee bar in the middle of the atrium that rises to twenty floors. In-house shops offer everything from fashion jewelry to oriental carpets. The very-welcome exemplary hospitality, courtesy, and service to please the guests was very impressive.
INDIA’S MAGNIFICIENT SHOPPING ARCADE
The Cottage Industries Emporium, a Government of India sponsored enterprise, located not far from Le Méridien, gave us a sampling of the National and regional opulence of India’s arts and crafts displayed under one roof. Its enticing displays introduced us to the diversity of India’s creative interests and trends. It has special appeal to the global visitors, who throng this hassle-free showplace. There is something for every taste; it is a festive treasure trove for decorators who wish to add an authentic Asian thought or theme to their projects or settings. Here imagination is the overriding expression or intention.
Imagine: large brass sculptures, wood-carvings of Hindu gods and goddesses; enameled royal elephants, paper maché boxes; miniature paintings and ragmalas; marble plates inlaid with semi-precious stones; embossed prayer rugs and oriental carpets; costume jewelry, diamonds and gem stone creations; ladies’ ready-made dresses, saris, brocaded scarves; men’s fashion outfits; furniture, accessories, and much more giving us a glimpse of India’s traditional and contemporary creative industry. A visit is a feast for the eyes and senses. The Emporium, stretching over five floors, is air-conditioned; one may shop without haggling and enjoy courteous service; and all charge cards are accepted.
MYRIAD OFFERINGS CAPTURE THE SENSES
Whether shopping at the Le Méridien Hotel shops, The Cottage Industries Emporium (http://www.cottageemporium.in/), The Indian Art and Craft Gallery (located at 27 Punchkuian Rd.; substantially lower prices and price-break possible on request), or at a corner father and son store, India’s myriad offerings capture our imagination. They direct our thoughts to the unheralded artisans keeping alive the crafts and traditions of the past and adapting them to contemporary fashion trends and emerging expectations. Beyond the colors, designs, media, and textures reflected in the shopping experience, there is the intrinsic element of history, landscape, cultural influences that came into the subcontinent with traders, invaders, and those who came in friendship to seek knowledge at India’s ancient centers of learning.
AN EYE TOWARD WORLD MARKETS
Today, India’s cultural and artistic influences travel in on 747s, via the internet, with friends and visitors from around the globe. It makes the shopping experience, not just a trade or exchange, but a memorable festival, reconnecting with an ancient civilization and an emerging Asian Superpower. The spirit of entrepreneurship is everywhere. Individuals are enthusiastically trying their hands, skills, and passions to create things with commercial potential in fashion shops in Mumbai, New York, Melbourne, Paris, or Milan (celebrated fashion capitols of the world). India offers the time-honored traditions of pride; Indians have an innate instinct to be enthusiastic and gracious, friendly and solicitous to a visitor or a friend to make him or her feel special. I find something very spiritual about the total experience, and look forward to going back to reconnect with my ancestral heritage that is finding resonance around the world.
www.KPSinghDesigns.com Indianapolis, Indiana USA May 23, 2012