Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Photos - India Days 5-7 - Cheryl and Am's Kashmiri admirers
This is Ajaz. He is from Kashmir. I learned a lot about the Indian/Pakistani Kashmiri border conflict from Ajaz. That is his second cousin doing something potentially untoward to an unidentified male.
Despite me calling him Ahmet, and Bob calling him Mohammed for two days, Ajaz entered our final days in Mumbai in a big way. Ajaz owns a shop outside the lifts at the Sun and Sand Hotel. There are three shops outside the lifts. One cannot get to the lifts, nor up the stairs to one's room, without being seen by the shop owners. One also cannot get to the internet room, nor the executive lounge for free cocktails and nibblies, without passing these shops. Therein lay the problem.
On our first day at the Sun and Sand, I made the mistake of being friendly to all the shop owners - you know - just being a happy tourist interested in visiting shops and checking out the goods. I seriously wanted to look at the colourful, shiny, glittering, unusual fare each shop had on display. There were a few items I wanted to purchase for friends and family back home. But I wanted to be able to shop in peace, ask for and receive a firm price, choose for myself what I wanted to buy, buy, and be done with it. Wrong. That is not the way these businessmen operated, nor, it seems, Indian salespeople in general after my experience buying salawar kameez at Linking Road on our first day in Mumbai. I thought I had broken in my Indian shopping training wheels at Linking Road and was certified to successfully negotiate my way through the long process of viewing and firmly saying "no" to the "maybe pile", haggle down a fair price and leave a store in under twenty minutes. Wrong again. I had, inadvertently, walked into a long-running war between the owners of shops one and three, with shop two, and I became the Gaza Strip.
Ajaz quickly took me under his wing. I was interested in buying his goods, he was interested in selling them to me. That was not the mistake. The mistake was that shop number one, a souvenir and jewellery shop run by Ajaz's cousin, and shop number three, Ajaz's carpet shop and home away from home, were, apparently the only shops I was allowed to be interested in. The mistake was that I spoke with Ajaz first, which made me his customer. But I had indicated to the sellers in shop number two that I would come to their shop to look at their wares. Wrong. Very wrong.
Ajaz and I struck up a friendship, of sorts, on our first night there. I had nothing to wear, and desperately needed something to put on my person as I was down to wearing Bob's shirts and Drs Sud and Yash were coming for dinner. I had no clean clothes, and those I had recently purchased at the market stalls in Linking Road did not quite fit. In desperation I plucked a humungous orange kaftan from the wall of shop number three, for which I was not allowed to pay, and fled upstairs to dress before the doctors' imminent arrival.
From that time on I belonged to Ajaz. I became the number one priority of Ajaz, his shop, his cousin's shop, his number one buyer and his new best love. And all I thought I had done was be friendly, fair and just another tourist. Not so.
Above is Ajaz's cousin (far right), his cousin (far left) and a second, third, fourth or even fifth cousin who showed up on the final day. These are the buggers who taught me to swear in Hindi.
So I dressed myself as the largest, brightest carrot in the vegetable box, and descended the stairs for dinner. I could not avoid Ajaz. He seemed to be permanently present outside his shop at the foot of the stairs.
"My dear, you look ... oh, what can I say? How can I tell you how beautiful you are," he greeted me. "
"Thanks Ahmet," I replied, knowing full well this flowing sea of fabric did little for my figure, which was quite lumpy in places, but at least I was clean.
"No, my dear,' Ajaz declared, "My heart beats when I see you. I am an unlucky man. I did not find you first. Alas," he implored, his hand over his heart, his face etched with despair. Oh puh-leeze!
His cousins come from their shop. They were not quite so in love with me, but complimented me on my good choice of attire. After heart-felt compliments and expressions of his regret that I was married, I somehow ended up in shop number three, viewing Kashmiri carpets and being promised by Ajaz he would take me to his home in Kashmir to meet his family. Not bloody likely. I'd done my research on the Pakistani/Indian Kashmir border me trying, in all manner of ways, I was unable to impart to Ajaz the message to lay off on the plans for our future travel, his compliments and tone down his growing "love" for me. It was making me very embarrassed.
If had said to him, "Jack off buddy and leave me the hell alone," I would have hurt his feelings. If I had asked Bob to intervene, I was a chicken-arse-chick getting my husband to get me out of the mess I found myself in. In hindsight the best course of action would have been to be very direct. I should have been cruel to be kind. I would have told I wanted to be alone with my husband to enjoy our holiday, that I wanted to see what he had for sale, but would do so at my leisure. Those of you who are staying with us at the Sun and Sand in February will realise just how nice this man is, but how pushy he can be.
Ajaz and Bob. Friends at last. This Ajaz came close to starting a war between husband and wife and wife and wife's suitor. It ended well (despite the Big Ugly Orange Kaftan affair).
Over four days at the Sun and Sand Hotel, Ajaz and his cousins dragged me into their shopping Mecca and showed me piece after piece, to which I replied, "Maybe " and even "No". Everything I expressed an interest in was placed on "the pile" for my consideration. At the end of three days, that pile was so darned huge there was no way in the world I was going to buy it all, much less buy even a tiny selection of the items he had saved for me.
While this was going on every day with Ajaz and his cousins, the shopkeeper in the middle shop became increasingly depressed in his attempts to get me to enter his shop and view his wares. Every time he was outside his shop, which seemed to be always, he would wave towards his door and say, "Good morning, please have a look at my shop," or "My shop is waiting for you and so am I." After a couple of days of smiling and being polite, I had to ignore this fellow. I felt so rude doing it, but had to in order to preserve my sanity. On day three it was apparent I was not going to look at his shop and his greeting, with sulky face, became, "Madam, you promised to look in my shop". On our final day the niceties were dispensed with and he, as well as his staff, ignored me. Finally! I learned a big lesson. If you don't want to buy, don't make eye contact.
At one stage I got the shits with Ajaz and his tactics and I told him I would buy from shop number two. Ajaz actually seized a small, but sharp knife, held it to his throat, and in a more than dramatic manner declared: "If you even look at his shop I will be sure to have to end my life. How could you betray me in such a way?". I grabbed the knife from him, told him he was a drama queen and confiscated the knife. How crazy. We actually ended up back in Perth with this very knife. Unbelievable.
So there was my poor husband, getting pretty shitty after days of this nonsense, telling me "There is no such thing as a gift". I agreed, but what was I to do? I had earrings, rings, jewellery boxes, gemstones, elephants by the dozen ... all in a growing collection in our room, that I did not want, that I was never going to buy, and that I was absolutely never going to accept as a gift. Believe me, I tried to stop this flow of gifts coming towards me. I said to Ajaz on many occasions, "No. I will not take this from your shop. I do not want this item." To which Ajaz always replied, "Why do you care so much for money? I give you a gift. You take my gift as a sign of our friendship. Do not talk of money at the same time as you talk of our friendship."
I knew these weren't gifts. I knew the time would come when the bill would be tallied and I would be expected to fork out one hundred times the amount I intended to pay, for things I did not want. It became ridiculous and I began to avoid the shops. But how could I? There was no way to get to our room, without passing the shops. I could avoid the internet and cocktail rooms, but I had to sleep somewhere.
Bob and I began to play a game of cat and mouse with Ajaz. Bob would sneak a peek around the corner and if the coast was clear, he'd wave me through the hallway and up the stairs. If Ajaz was there, we would linger longer by the pool until we felt safe to return to our room. On the occasions I was alone and was caught by Ajaz and his perpetual greeting, "My dear friend ..." I would feign a headache and escape via the route of the liar. This game of hide and seek continued right up until our final night. Terribly sad that we were rturning to Australia, found us hiding at the pool bar. Still professing his love for, now us, and his dismay at Bob having found and married me first, we sought to help him with his love life. We did what any quick thinking couple would do. We offered him Bob's sister Sally. So Sally then became the focus of his attentions, and Sally was gifted with Indian trinkets she would like. Ajaz's plan for Sally was for her to live ten months in India and two months in Australia. Now way! Bob negotiated it down to two months in India and ten months in Australia. It was all good fun, but I still wonder how serious this man was. I guess we'll find out in February when we arrive with no Sally, but a Jojoterrific and Tigerlilycat, who I am sure he will become enamoured with.
Sally with her paper mache cat box, a gift from Ajaz. Inside was a marriage proposal. It was just a joke, I dictated to Ajaz what to write in the note.
We finally got Bob into some cool Kashmiri threads.
Our final night. The Kashmiri boys planted a surprise kiss on Bob. Look how happy he is!
Posted by Phoenix at 7:35 PM