Missing Shopping List

IMG-20131026-00003Everybody asks what I’m going to miss most about India. My reply? “I need to leave India to find out. Check back in in about six months!” I’m pretty sure that I’ll see my friends again, so I’m reluctant to say that I’ll miss them. I’m also fairly confident that I’ll satisfy my food fixes by going to far flung holes in the wall in Forest Hills Queens, Juba City California, Edison New Jersey or Houston Texas. (I have to admit, though, I’d never tried South Indian food ’til I came here and I suspect that I will miss masala dosas terribly.) My best guess on the saudades front is that I will miss the shopping.

I’d hate to sound like a predatory buyer, but now I understand why merchants were sailing across the seas, battling ocean monsters and scurvy, to get here. Rock bottom prices baby! Not that there aren’t draw backs. The finishing isn’t usually all that great on the lower priced items and the higher priced items are priced too high for the value of clean edges. Yet and still, it all works out about right in the end. And I should know – I’m at the end.

I never reveal my shopping secrets, but since I’m leaving Delhi soon I’m feeling philanthropic. Find here a list of vendors and stores I recommend. I think their prices are fair for what they’re offering – not so low that you wonder if slaves are doing the work and not so high that you wonder if everything is made of gold leaf. No matter if you live in Delhi or if you plan to tour, I think you’ll be satisfied with your purchases and your pockets.


Naveen and his guys came over after work on a weekday to show me books and books and upholstery fabric. I have to admit that I didn’t love  most of the patterns, but also said that I was welcome to get my own fabric and his staff would handle to labor of re-upholstering. Did Ms. Instant Gratification go fabric hunting? Of course not! I went with one of his crushed velvet black fabric and had my victorian chairs restored to their fabtastic glory for just about $50 – including the fabric.  It was well worth the spend and I think anyone using his services will find professionalism and customer satisfaction to be on high!


Here’s the ole Delhi bait & switch! The shop is both a cell phone repair shop AND a framing shop. Since I don’t have a personal cell phone I haven’t needed to use their “Cell Net” services, but I have gotten the vast majority of my certificates and art work framed there. Since this isn’t their primary business, don’t expect to find the most innovative of framing options.  But if you want a simple, solid colored frame – no matter the size of glass – I think you’ll find their prices and turn around time to be really good. And while there are other framers I’ve tried in Sarojini Nagar market, for example, that are competitively priced – Hauz Khas market is a much nicer market. There’s not as much hustle and haggle, so I prefer Guptas. As a secondary option, I’d suggest the framer in Vasant Vihar’s C Block market. I’ve gotten really great work from them too and the man who runs that shop also gives deep discounts for repeat customers.

f1 10Yes lord, I love my jewels. It’s hard to come to Delhi and walk away without bling. I was a humble costume jewelry connoiseur before Delhi did me in. My loyalties have always been to Mr. Mogha in Le Meridien hotel. Every expat knows Mr. Mogha and his sons. And while I have cheated on Mr. Mogha while traveling to other cities, in Delhi I believe his designs, variety, and prices are the best – by far. Almost every piece of gold jewelry I’ve bought in India has come from them and I have yet to complain! Not to mention, these guys are not the hard sell types. They won’t talk you into anything and they won’t pressure you to buy. They know their stuff and they can actually explain to you what you’re getting and why it’s priced as such. Oh and they always give coffee or chai with every visit. I’m going to miss these guys a lot!


Raj is to Mumbai what Mr. Mogha is to Delhi. He was recommended to me when I went to stay with colleagues in Mumbai for two weeks. I wasn’t disappointed. Frankly, I find Mumbai’s styles to be much more modern and innovative than Delhi’s. Delhi tends to be more Mughal style and diamond heavy. Mumbai designers play with gems and textures much more. That’s what I loved about Raj’s collection. Last time I went in we scored a gold plated corral encrusted 2 inch thick bangle and my diamond engagement ring!  I’ve got my mind’s eye on a silver and uncut sapphire necklace that’s been haunting my dreams – maybe I should have got it while I was in town. But, he ships! Phew, that could have been bad.

f1 11

Shobha ben is actually on her way to my house right now. I’m not kidding! I met her and her son at the famous crafts market – Dilli Haat – and I frequented their stall so much that she asked if I’d let her bring things to my house to show friends. Of course, that made perfect sense since it would save me the taxi rides to and fro. She’s got tapestries and table runners made of old saris, but my favorites are the hand stitched blankets. I plan to buy a million – or maybe just four – before I leave. And since she’s willing to come to me, there’s no reason to let her leave without lightening her load.


If there’s one thing Delhi’s got a lot of it’s tea shops. So, far be it for me to try to convince you to switch loyalties. But, if you haven’t yet found a tea home for yourself, I would suggest the Asia Tea House in Sunder Nagar market. I’ve really enjoyed their varieties and their packaging! They’ll pack any tea in a decorative box – hand painted or Rani covered – within just minutes. The teas range from black to white and everything in between. They even have organically grown varieties! Oh and they’ve also got cute accessories, like an elephant topped tea spoon. Yup, I’ve been in that place one too many times. Can you tell?

Now that I’ve dished all my dirt, I’m going to get ready to make my last round at these places. Shopping (and eating) is an age old Indian pastime. I will surely miss all the adventures I’ve had in discovering my faves and picking up some goodies along the way.
You never know, maybe the allure will bring me back for more.

You never know.

Every good turn…

“Finally in the plane. after a very intense last day! Will be back soon…keep in touch. Lots of love, r” read her 4am text, as if I knew she was leaving at all.  Last I heard, she’d gotten her visa extended, and I was pretty sure she’d be sticking around, at least through the summer. But, clearly, if she’s “in the plane” she’s either headed back to Réunion or France proper. She’s definitely NOT staying in Delhi (Indian translation: she has left Delhi itself). We hadn’t any chance to say goodbye, and I wonder why she didn’t force the issue of having tea before she left.

I thought that throughout the course of the day the mental kerfuffle caused by waking up to the departure of one of my very first friends here in Delhi would slowly abate. But, as I furiously pushed grammatically correct papers back to Washington, sometime around 10am I got a call from Syeda. “I don’t think I can come up there right now, because I’m still at my desk. I’ve been here since 3 in the morning and I’m still not done checking out,” she said, with her usual nervous laughter. Sometimes I wanted to shake her or defend her when she used that “I laugh to keep from crying” tone. But, she, one of my very best friends here in Delhi, was going back home and vowed only to return for jewelry shopping.  And what use is making that trip when I know her ring size, her favorite jeweler, and her over the top South Asian preferences?

Yea, she’s never coming back.

And so, Thursday was a day of formidable goodbyes and reconciliation with the migrations of Delhi. Making friends is hard here, because most people don’t intend to stay. Like in DC, or any nation’s capital I suppose, the population that is not native is nomadic. In reality, that means that my Thursday was the equivalent of a big bag of balls. And I kept thinking, “I knew I should have just gone to Baghdad!”

Then I remembered the email that I red flagged from the day before. “The keys to D1/9 are ready for pick up.” FUCK!

It was 4:59pm. I had to get the keys to the new lady’s house from an office that closed at 5:30pm. I had to get her groceries. Go to the airport at 12am. Pick her up. Take her home. Make sure her keys worked. Get her 3 bags to the top of a third floor walk up. Show her how to turn on the air conditioners. [I forgot to show her the water distiller.] And go home. Go to sleep. Wake up. Pick her up for work. Take her to her office. Go to mine. And push more paper. All I could think was, ‘if she’s lame – this will be the worst 24 hours ever.’

They say when one door closes, two windows open. Thus far, this week has been a one for one scenario. Maybe my other two are on back order? The new lady was pretty cool – and it doesn’t hurt to make a friend in the health unit. Around my mom’s age. Southern, with lots of time in New Orleans and Texas. A talker, but not in an obnoxious way. Her first time abroad – second career. And curious.

So, it was my turn to be somebody’s first friend. I spent all Saturday dragging her from self-soothing shopping site to self-soothing shopping site. I’m sure she has a horrible impression of my spending habits, but a great understanding of where to go for those who consider suicide when Delhi is enuf. We went to all of Syeda’s old haunts: the jeweler in Le Meridien, the sari shop in Sarojini Nagar Market, the DLF Emporio – which now has a Christian Louboutin (fast forward to 3:15) store!, and Smokehouse Grill for dinner. And after I dropped the new lady off at home, I remembered that an old college chum had arrived in town too.

I’m not sure how, but I dragged him out of his flat clear across town, and we made it to a farm house party only 10 minutes from my house – though it felt a world away. An interesting collage of expats, diplomats, lesbians, (closet) gays, locals, nomads, Africans, Europeans, beer and sheeshah made for quite the evening.

And aside from all the happy thoughts swarming in my head about how I wasn’t in Delhi alone after all, all my selfish ass could think about was, “these two newbies are sooo lucky they found me, or else their time here in Delhi would suck big balls.” C’mon, on your first day in Delhi you go to the DLF Emporio and the jeweler in Le Meridien?? It took me months to find this stuff! Or this farm house pool party near Mehrauli?? That was my first time going, and this guy I haven’t seen in 6 years just plops down in Delhi for 12 hours and gets a super awesome invite to come with?  Dude, my life is awesome! And they reaped the benefits of the mushroom cloud of awesomeness that surrounds narcissistic ole’ me.

But every good turn deserves another. And my two bygone besties really showed me around town as much as they could too. After all, R. had shown me Boheme in Hauz Khas, after we met at a Belgian diplomat’s house party that we’d both crashed. And Syeda really pushed me, professionally and personally, to go out on a limb for myself. And I felt like I owed it to them to make sure that this new duo had the best time possible. After all, we’re in Delhi, and sh!t doesn’t just happen – life here can be sh!t. But, there are times, like last night, when I look up in the sky and I can actually see the stars through the smog and it’s a pretty awe-inspiring moment.

And this is all against the backdrop of having been here when my grandfather was laid to rest back home. I didn’t make the funeral this week. And I really haven’t talked about it – perhaps because I fully intend to act like it’s not really the case until I have a breakdown. (Don’t judge me.)

But, all the coming and going really had me thinking about how our days are always numbered. Not because we have to worry about passing on, but because life is too exciting to sit still and wait for experiences to come. People like me chase the next moment, and that means learning to be ok with saying ‘see you later,’ when you know it’s really ‘goodbye.’

Perhaps that’s the same flexibility it takes to convert a 4am g’bye text message into tour guide inspiration. It’s the leading by example aspect of just enjoying every day and watching others around you reflect the same or choose another circle where their miseries have an audience. It’s the out-of-wedlock child born of 2 principles: being who you are and paying it forward.  While I have very specific plans to pay forward my grandfather’s legacy, this whole Delhi bit is a high-speed revolving door that I will just have to get used to.

Watch my red bottoms spin!