An ode to shopping
Divya Swami Attri loves shopping. But has she become a shopaholic she asks herself.
Anticipation of America's big shopping day, popularly known as Black Friday Sale, always pumps fiery consumerist spirit into me. I guess hitting the malls to grab a few monster deals is nothing short of an exciting adventure!
Side by side some thoughts niggle. Was this eagerness on my part an indication that the smart shopper in me was turning into an indulgent, over-the-top consumerwallah? Was I on the route to becoming a shopaholic?
It was time to take a stock of things.
Shopping had never held priority in my life. The mantra that one should shop for needs not wants was taught to me by my parents. And I have always tried to heed that.
Back then family shopping trips were as sparse as the needs.
My mom prized herself for her spotless maintenance of her possessions. The kitchen utensils, the furniture, the household d cor and even her wardrobe stayed as good as new and remained in our home for a very long time. By the I had grown up, some of these household items had become permanent fixtures, even symbolic!
Our clothes had long utility too. Mostly hand-tailored by mom, a dress started its journey with the elder sister and travelled down to the younger sister before it finally it went into the hands of a 'new' owner -- the trading woman!
This lady would come twice a year and collect old, worn clothes for which she would offer a stainless steel vessel in exchange. My mom would first haggle over the deal before it was sealed. Talk about recycling
Most of the time she seemed to enjoy the transactions more than the purchase. Shopkeepers always offered respect, trust, and personalised attention that eventually built into a good relationships. Along with the customer satisfaction, we sometimes came back with a few trading tips, kindly dispensed by the generous shopkeeper.
We rarely splurged. The only time I spent lavishly was when I went trousseau shopping. It was an enriching experience, both in terms of value and content! The shopkeeper, who was a glib orator, opened my eyes to the vast repertoire of Indian silk saris. He emphasised the authenticity, the history, and the painstaking method of weaving of each piece.
As the Tanchois, Kanjeevarams, Chanderis and Bandhejs were spread before my eyes, their fine silk and intricate weaving won me over. I decided to have the finest collection for myself!
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh
'Felt like a fish in an ocean of products'
When I left behind the traditional shopping styles of the east to come to the US and sampled the urban shopping environment of the west it was a bewildering but intoxicating experience. The glitzy malls, sumptuous retail mix of goods that ranged from high-end to mediocre, the ever-changing trends were perplexing for an FOB (fresh of the boat) like me.
I felt like a small fish thrown in the big ocean of products. From clothing to home goods and furnishings, from electronics to eateries, the choice was over-whelming.
The lack of personalised attention and the neutral demeanor of the sales representatives, added to the isolating experience. One had to know the right style, right size, right bargain, and the right place to shop.
There was a need to upgrade myself from being an ordinary shopper to becoming a smart one. This journey, much to my amusement, was also an adventure in self-discovery. You need to be in fine tune with yourself to know what to shop for. That was probably how a pair of leopard print stilettos found their way into my wardrobe!
Thereafter the shopping drills became like much-needed exercises. Wearing a plastic smile on the face, I would scout from one shop to another, eyes auto-tuned to focus on the object of my desire, heart accustomed to handle the thrill of hitting the right deal! The serious 'bargain hunter' in me had finally emerged!
Succumbing to the power of the American consumerism, I welcomed shopping in all its manifestations, be it 'feel-good factor', 'stress-buster', 'healing powers', ' a lil pampering thyself', 'therapeutic', 'family fun time', 'I -me-myself time', or more. In fact the reason to shop became shopping itself!
As I look back, the fine line between the 'needs and the wants' has disappeared long, long ago. There is always that 'little something' that one could shop for.
Fortunately my conventional frugal upbringing guards me from stretching beyond my means. And I think that is the fine line that clearly divides a smart shopper from a shopaholic!
Just like women and shopping go hand in hand so too do America and its consumerism. Can we do without either of them?
Divya is a freelance writer and teacher and live in Princeton, with her family. She is not sure why she wrote an ode to shopping
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh