Thursday, 9 December 2010

Indian Experience Part 1: Delhi

First and foremost I cannot believe that it has taken me 35 years to get to India. This insanely amazing country somehow never happened for me until now. And now I am hooked. They say that India is either in your blood or it isn’t and for me it most definitely is. And to be clear-my blood is also in India simply through the ridiculous number of mosquitoes that made it their business to feast on me daily. I practically needed a transfusion. But first things first…. Delhi…. This is one crazy city. I was lucky enough to stay with a friend of a friend and to have this part of my trip made incredibly easy for me. My great friend Neha organized everything from my accommodation to my driver as well as some sturdy dos and don’t lists of what to eat, what to avoid and a whole host of contacts to call upon for whatever I might need. This did make a huge difference and allowed me to embrace Delhi in all its madness knowing I was safe and only a phone call away from help should I need it. So thus armed I launched myself onto Delhi with gusto…. 

I arrived at 2am in the morning and was shown to my room by a sleepy Supurna Singh. My hostess with the mostest politely showed me where to put my things and opened the door to my en-suite bathroom….. Did you know that in Delhi they have ‘bucket baths’? Well I didn’t and apparently the look on my face was so comical that Supy got straight on the phone to Neha in London (at 2am) to vent her mirth. However things improved immeasurably from there. I was woken at 7am with breakfast in bed (much more what I had in mind!) and by 8 was on the road with Hari Gee –my assigned driver of few words and even less intelligible English- to one of the many factories I visited. When I say ‘on the road’ this is a term I use loosely in relation to Delhi because driving there  (or even sitting in a car that someone else is driving) is possibly one of the most harrowing experiences imaginable as ‘road’ is a  flexible term in Delhi. As is the word ‘driving’. The cars, bikes and rickshaws just pile up on top, around and underneath each other in a cacophony of noise that is the constant honking the Indians seem to partake in as a national sport. Hilariously all the massive trucks out there have graffiti on the back indicating their approval of this mad honking. There is ‘Blow Horn’, ‘Horn OK’, ‘Please Sound Horn and the best one ‘  (the arrows indicate that you should overtake from both sides)! Given this is the accepted norm for commercial vehicles, you surely get the idea that as far as the roads go-anything goes. Throw in the cows (who have a national right of way) and a few random goats and you have a driving experience that is not dissimilar to St John's Wood High Street on a Saturday afternoon.

Given the crazy appalling traffic I spent a fair amount of every day sitting in crazy polluted mayhem getting used to the crazy amount of noise. I visited factories and was shown enormous hospitality by some that I have been working with for a while. One was particularly amazing making me the most beautiful welcome ceremony (with incense and some red ash like powder which ended up on my forehead), taking me for lovely local meals and making sure I had a chance to visit markets and fair trade co-operatives. The markets were amazing actually. One in particular called Deli Haat was my favourite and I found some amazing textile bargains there. Basically the vibe is that each week they support a different region or trade. The week I was there the focus was on silk and wool textiles and I found some amazing scarves and shawls. They will literally haul you off the path to show you wares you have no interest in but may end up buying just to get away. It is a technique that Amiee has been employing recently on our buyers and I think she could learn something from these guys. Haggling is a given and as a Westerner you can count on the prices being doubled up for your benefit.-Which makes it so much more fun when you settle on their normal price and you feel like you got a bargain. 

The red ash like powder on my forehead

Delhi Haat Market
I spent a week in Delhi and worked really, really hard. I love being in factories and really enjoyed spending time with them. They are incredibly knowledgeable and as a designer it is invaluable to hear what they have to say about the merits or issues of one type of leather over another. I learned a huge amount about the processes we are using and what can be achieved-for example I learned that by applying a bambooing enzyme to the bottom of my leather trousers, I can create a worn effect which will cling to the shin beautifully without looking like a legging. For a girl who lives in leather trousers-this is a valuable piece of information. The collection for AW11 is looking fantastic and I got the opportunity to focus on detail and finishes in more depth and with greater knowledge than ever before. It was great.

I was very fortunate in having the wonderful Hari Gee drive me about. In spite of his appalling grasp of the English language, utterly incomprehensible accent and propensity for insisting on describing every landmark and its history to me in great depth, he was also good enough not to insist on a reply. I am not quite sure how we managed to communicate but apart from one particular incident where he wasn’t where (I thought) he said he would be leaving me to get swept up into a dramatic Indian wedding (which was great fun really!) he was my guide and saviour. Many times he popped up at just the right time to stop me getting accosted by beggars or men offering to fix my lighter for 10 ruppees. He drove me from industrial estates to smart hotels and waited uncomplainingly for me for hours at a time. Big up Hari Gee!

Wedding in Delhi
I also managed to squeeze in a trip to a special education centre for special needs orphans. You really can’t go all the way to India and not go for the ‘special needs’ photo op. I may not be Angelina Jolie but I can do Wan-Wearing-White-Surrounded-By-Kids-In-Ragged-But-Bright-Clothing as well as the next person. The Very Special Arts Centre gives children who would otherwise get no care or education the chance to learn a skill. They make the most amazing textiles using wools and old cassette tape which they then turn into gift items such as sponge bags and coin purses. Most importantly the children have somewhere to go where they are looked after, educated and are happy. I walked in to a dance class and I swear I have never seen so many happy, shining little faces- all of which swivelled round to great me with pure, uncomplicated joy.  I will not be adopting any of them.

Fabrics and gifts made at the orphan care home
I have included a photo of the fabric they make, so if anyone has a good idea of how we can use it, please don’t be backwards in coming forwards!


  1. sounds like you had quite the adventure!

  2. Love the rainbow of colours! I'm reminded of Elmer the patchwork elephant. Or rather, I'm sure that's what it would remind my children of..

  3. With all the lovely colours I can't get past patchwork either!

  4. I'm thinking more Sonia Rykiel, Sara...

  5. I live in Delhi and I don't have a bucket bath!