Going Native: An Ode to the Sub-Continent


It started with my “trendy kurta,” and I’m not putting that in quotes to be funny – the receipt from the mall in Darjeeling labeled it as such.  I’m happy to report I hadn’t purchased any old kurta  – the traditional, long, loose top worn by women across India – I was keen enough to get a trendy one. I felt hip in the nerdiest way possible.

But really, buying the kurta was more an effort at keeping cool than looking cool – obviously women across India (where the temperatures much of the year hover around 90 F with humidity) have figured out what to wear that won’t result in hot, sticky sweat-clinging clothes. And stifling tees and tops were all I had been wearing for 2 weeks straight. I was melting in a pool of my own sweat and desperate for cool and modest gear. The kurta at the mall fit the bill.

Once I was comfortable at the mall I made a few more stops there, curious to try other popular products, namely, hair oil. Anyone who’s known me for any length of time knows that taming my curly hair is time-consuming enough to be considered a full-blown hobby and Indian TV showed endless commercials for various oils to silken and smooth tresses. Sold. The women working in the hair product department flocked around me, fascinated, chattering and pointing at various bottles. Coconut or herbal? Weekly treatment or daily? I bought a tiny bottle, and slicked up my hair with it, hoping for the best — as any curly girl with attest, in wild humidity it’s sort of hard to get benefits of any product.

Next, the bangles. Oh my lord, the sparkly bangle bracelets of India. Like a moth to the flame, I tell you, I was yanked toward any and every stand, stall, store and roving salesman that offers the stacks and stacks of brightly colored bangles that rise up the arms of the women here. The colors are startlingly bright and bold, rhinestones abound; they’re like the crown jewels of the general female populace and I was taken, hook, line, sinker, and all that. Soon my arms were crowded with silver and colors, various shapes and textures. I clink and clank when I walk. It makes me happy.

Then, naturally, came the scarves. I love a good scarf when I’m stateside. Seeing and wearing them in India, the land of multi-colored, brilliant textiles was too tempting. If during the course of my 7 months traveling the winds of change kick in and it EVER gets chilly in SE Asia – by god, my neck will be warm!

At last, just when I thought I’d spent enough on souvenirs for myself, I was offered a mehendi, or traditional henna tattoo. Now, who in their right mind can deny the temptation? An hour later, I was up to my elbows in flowering, blooming henna designs, and again quite happy.

At one point, in Pushkar, while chatting with a vendor I had a see-myself-from-the-local-eye kind of moment, and laughed. Hard. I was the picture of white girl gone native: sporting my trendy kurta, all henna tattooed up, bangles a-gleaming, shiny oiled hair flowing and a new addition – a red and yellow string bracelet to be worn into the Brahmin temple.

Look what 5 weeks in the sub-continent can do to a person.

I’m about to say goodbye to India and thrilled to say hello to new continents and adventures, but it aches to leave this splendid madness behind. Still, I know my stories will live on in a certain kurta, a few shining bangles, billowy scarves and the memory of a fading henna design.

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  1. So what came of the experimental hair oils??? Any major epiphanies?? I will head out to the Indian grocery stat! Xos

    • Valerie Conners says:

      dood – it’s been a real downer… i still need to try your moroccan hair oils – you were looking FLY when I left!