Tag Archives: jewelry

Unwritten part 2………………..

If you would like to read part 1, it is here.

We saw so much in India that we had never seen before. Some of it was absolutely amazing – the history, the people, and the beautiful children with charcoal lines painted around their dark eyes to keep evil from peering at them.

But a lot of what we saw sank in our gut like a meal riddled with hidden poison, so scrumptious in the consuming, so vile in the digesting and all of it leaving you sick for days. In some of the scarier moments, we saw a man beaten at the zoo, blind children begging in the middle of the night and the middle of the street, and children simply unattended. We saw a hoard of men lunging with lead pipes in hand toward the driver of a car sitting in line at a tool booth.

Once, when my friends came to visit, our car was stopped by a group of men on a dusty side road in the middle of truly nowhere. Our driver got out of the car and I feared for him and selfishly feared what would happen to us if something happened to him.

More than once, I saw a dead body strewn across the side of the road and completely ignored.

It’s hard to reconcile that. The very nonchalant way that someone can distract herself from a human being lying forgotten on the side of the road. Sometimes covered. Sometimes not. There are no reporters dreaming of headlines. No crowds of people gathering and gasping in disbelief. Mostly just people moving on – or moving around – busy with their own way, barely glancing over to see what happened other than to avoid the inconvenience of it all.

I always wondered who was at home waiting. Who did care that someone had stopped breathing through no fault of his own? What story would the family have to create with the absence of a caring witness?

Most of these memories simply dissipate into the haze. They fade and lose their sense of reality. In fact, unless you were armed with stacks of my own words right in front of me, it might be hard to convince even me that some of it truly happened. It couldn’t. It wouldn’t. But wait, maybe it did.

In most of those situations, I was eager to avoid danger and remove myself completely from acknowledging that anything dreadful was going on. Usually my kids were with me and I was trying to distract them so I would not have too much to explain later. I could busy myself with keeping them safe by keeping them unaware.

Words always failed me in those tenuous situations. I didn’t understand the “why” of what was happening any more than my children could and never found the strength to make sense of the different scenarios for my kids. So, if they could be preoccupied with counting people on a bus or looking for camels – so be it.

But there is always a moment when you can no longer pretend that you live in a world where suffering doesn’t fall like rain. There is always a memory you cannot escape or deny.

It happened to me right after a few of my friends and I decided to venture deep into Old Delhi. One of the best memories I have from my time in India was tainted and stained by one of the worst.

Many westerners are hesitant to travel into Old Delhi. But we were having none of that. Old Delhi is alive with all that India is about. It is a fascinating and wonderful corner that is best explored with open eyes, an adventurous spirit, and an old pair of shoes that can be thrown away later.

My friends and I donned colorful dupattas (scarves) and climbed the steps to the Jama Masjid mosque and removed our shoes and rang the bell at the Jain Temple letting the gods know we were there. We visited our favorite jeweler and his family and spoiled ourselves with shiny trinkets. We laughed that our new jewels were really for our kids and our grandkids and that we would just hold them in safe keeping until they were mature enough to have them.

We felt humbled by the seriousness of the students study and chants and prayers in the Fatepuri Mosque. We inhaled the dust and braved the stares of the male-dominated Spice Market, where we dined on delicious raw cashews and pistachios as we watched men bathe in buckets.

We enjoyed the Sikhs bowing in reverence as they entered their Gurdwara and admired their dedication to feed those who are hungry. We relished the fact that just up the street of Chandni Chowk was also the home to a Baptist Church and a Jain bird sanctuary. All of the world’s major religions had a presence on that street and we boasted how wonderful that was.

We moved on to the famed Karims restaurant and laughed as we asked for our sodas in cans and paper plates for our food, brave enough to eat the food but not brave enough to eat it off of their potentially uncleaned plates.

It was one of those days where everything clicked. We learned, we laughed, and we wore ourselves out. Our glow grew with every stop – the spirituality, the friendship, and the jewelry.

On the way to the car, we continued to marvel at the sights, sounds, and smells of Old Delhi. The alleys were alive with crazy electrical wires hanging from every single building serving as balance beams for the monkeys who danced across them over our heads. We did our own dance over unknown splats on the crackling walkway and tried to identify what each might be. Ultimately, we decided some mysteries were better left unsolved.

We kept pace with the men and animals pushing and pulling carts and women covered in veils. Children coming home from school and merchants delivering their wares. Spices that made us sneeze a little, then gag. Brides shopping for invitations. Incense burning right around the corner from the used auto parts shop rich with its own smells of rubber and grease.

Old Delhi was vibrant in a way that my neighborhood in the Unites States never could be.  And whenever I visited this part of Delhi, I always tempted time by staying for just one minute more. There was forever a window that had not been seen before or a corner that had not yet been turned.

As time dripped away, we realized we had better hurry and bustled to the car in a little bit of a panic that we might be late for school pickup. We got in the car and immediately started calling the different school offices to be sure they knew we were on the way – explaining that just this time, we would be just a smidge later than normal. “Traffic is horrible,” we said and winked at each other while holding our hands just right so that our new rings reflected the sun streaming in the window.

As I was putting my phone down and sinking into my seat, I looked around at the busyness on the street. It was chaotic and endless. It was hard to pick out a single scene and soak it in.

But then just over to my left, a man came into focus. There was no reason, really, that I should be drawn to him. He was defined in the same dusty, brown haze as the foggy air that surrounded him. He wore a simple and stale, used-to-be-white robe and was standing in the middle of the road. In between traffic and blinks, he could have easily disappeared. He looked drunk and obviously wanted something. Help.

But it was not immediately obvious just how truly desperate he was. You can unfortunately and intentionally become numb to the desperation in India a little too quickly. Even with the biggest most generous heart, the realization that you simply cannot help everyone graciously lends you an excuse to ignore someone who is clearly struggling.

My friends were still on their phones and I am pretty certain that they never even saw what happened next. I do not know how my driver could have possibly missed it but he showered me with the gift of never discussing it.

As traffic slowed, the man in the middle of the road slowly began lifting the skirt of his tattered robe.

At first, I only saw his bare and wrinkled feet. His toes seemed to be bent in half from holding on too tightly to the melting asphalt. Then he revealed his far too skinny ankles. Followed by his knotted and bent knees. His skin was ashen and taut, stretched tightly over bones that were very likely brittle and deteriorating. They were bones that had probably never tasted milk. Maybe they had never even had the chance to be strong enough to allow him to hold up his slight frame with pride and determination. With hope.

It took me a few seconds to fully comprehend what he was doing. To really understand. To allow myself to believe I wasn’t just imagining it. But not enough time to distract myself from it. To delve into conversation and disappear.

With his skirt fully lifted, I finally realized what he was doing. This man had taken straw-colored raffia, or maybe it was old rope, and tied it around one of his testicles. His testicle had swollen to nearly the size of a basketball. He would lift his robe to show the passerbys how profoundly he needed help. Their help.

How are you supposed to respond to that? How do you digest that? How do you explain it? What are you supposed to do?

How do you say, from an air conditioned car with a full belly and new rings on your fingers, that you are not going to stop?

We drove away but I can never forget his face. His destruction.

This time I think I was so stunned that I could not act. Even if I had thought to empty my purse at his feet, I could not have done it. I was frozen. I never even turned my head away. Our eyes met as we were rolling away and he just looked at me as if to say, “Yes, my dear, you are seeing exactly what you think you are seeing and what are you going to do with it?”

I sat in disbelief that I totally and completely ignored a man who had intentionally mangled part of himself beyond all recognition. His marketing plan was to be the most disfigured – the most in need. And even that was not working.

I still am not quite sure what I am supposed to do with his image. I am not sure how to handle this experience. What to do with it.

Who really cares what this man across an ocean did. How does it relate to life here and now? I am not really sure. But I know I don’t want to forget it. Well, that will be easy enough because I cannot forget him.

But what now?

Buyer Beware…….

You might remember that I had two friends come visit from the United States in February. We had an amazing time and traveled through quite a bit of India. One of the places we visited was Jaipur. One of the things you are “supposed” to do when you visit Jaipur is go jewelry shopping.

So, we went to the historical sites first – then on the the sparkly stuff. We eeeew’d and awwww’d and tried on lots of fabulous jewelry. We joked how marvelous we would look in this piece or that piece. We tried on necklaces that cost more than a car and we laughed.

We also bought some jewelry. Yep, you know exactly where this is going. Downhill fast.

I want to be careful here not to say that we were not completely swindled. We were taken advantage of – no doubt. But to be honest, my friends trusted me to take them to a reputable place and then we all trusted that we weren’t totally being taken. When we handed over our credit cards, we did it willingly and after negotiating much better prices than we were originally quoted. We even got some free gifts – and yes, that should have been our very first of several warning signs.

The jeweler we met was charming and I am sure he saw us coming a kilometer away – we looked just like tourists straight off the elephant ride and I am sure he smelt rupees. He was patient and explained everything to us. He joked with us and, oddly enough, it turns out  he way over charged us. And like I said, we were happy to pay him because we foolishly trusted him.

Our first mistake was listening to me. I trusted someone with a jewelry referral who has done well by me in the past. But I should have gotten several names and we should have absolutely gone to more than one shop. And my friends and I don’t k.n.o.w. jewelry. Sure we know what we like and we know our price (breaking) points – but we didn’t really understand how the two coincided. That is what we call a big fat recipe for disaster.

So we bought jewelry. And a decent amount of it.

In fact, this ring was so fab that I decided to bring it home. I planned to wait on the bracelet and get it for a special occasion – perhaps my funeral when my hubby learned the full details of the story or my friends realized how badly I misdirected them.

I know, it is pretty, huh?

When we returned to Delhi and spread out our sparklees, my friend noticed that the ring she bought for her daughter was slightly off center. So, we called our guy. No problem. He had a friend traveling to Jaipur the next day and we could just give it to him and the jeweler would fix it and, yes, he would make sure we got it back in time for my friend to return to America with it in hand. Just as charming as we remembered. Promises, promises.

We were slightly concerned about giving this total stranger a pretty expensive ring and were having a hard time believing that it would actually end up at the jeweler in Jaipur. But we were armed with the knowledge that we paid with credit cards and had some protection. That turned out to be about the only thing we did right – pay with credit cards.

That same night we went to a party. My friend was standing with her new bracelet on her arm and it simply broke in 3 places. Nope, she didn’t bang it against a wall – and no, a kid on a skateboard didn’t rip it off her arm while scooting by – and no,  monkeys didn’t fly out of the sky and try to steal it – it just simply fell to the ground in 3 places. She had been wearing it for all of two hours.

That was also not a good sign.

So I called the jeweler and explained that we were not happy. No problem. He would gladly fix it. We asked what would happen if my friend wanted to simply return the bracelet – now that we are none too sure about the quality. We were starting to second guess ourselves about 2 days too late. “Oh,” he said, “that would take about 15 days.” When we explained that was not the right answer because my friend was leaving in less than a week, he simply replied, “that is how it works here. Fifteen days. Or I could bring you cash.”

Holy sapphire Batman.

I had never purchased a large item on a credit card in India and I had not returned anything. So, I didn’t know if this guy was pulling a (nother) fast one or if that was just the way it worked.

There is a jeweler that a lot of expats use in Delhi and I suggested we give him a visit. While there, we asked about the value of our remaining items. The Delhi jeweler (who is well known and well trusted) said that some of the pieces we had he would not even buy – no matter how low the price. It turns out they were hollow and not solid gold/silver pieces – that apparently lowers the value s.i.g.n.i.f.i.c.a.n.t.l.y. hmpf.

So, just for giggles, we asked him to tell us what he would have paid, if he had been so foolish to buy them. None of the pieces appraised at even fifty percent of what we paid.

Yep, I know there is a double sided game going on – if we return the jewelry to jeweler A, we might just have some rupees to spend at jeweler B. But the appraisals were so far off from the prices that we paid. We felt sick to our stomachs and really angry. And of course, I felt the worst of all.

We also asked the Delhi jeweler what would happen if we paid by credit card and decided to return something. That part of the story actually checked out. It appears that it takes about 2 weeks in India to get a credit back on a return. Yikes. Yeah that would have been good to know as well.

(Just a side note – This makes jewelry shopping in India pretty fun though – because the jewelers will let you take pieces home and think about them without paying for them yet. They don’t like dealing with the hassle of returns, so they want you to be sure you like it. And even if a few months after purchasing something, you decide it’s not for you, you can just bring it back and exchange it.)

We left the Delhi jeweler after learning lots and trying on more fun stuff – shhh, don’t tell hubby that part. And we called the Jaipur jeweler. I firmly explained that this was no way to do business with Americans and that I would truly understand if the items were valued 20 or even 30 percent less what we paid – after all, prices are somewhat subjective. But, one piece appraised at 10 percent of what my friend paid. I was shaking. I was furious. And I told him so.

He tried to explain that the price of jewelry is in the eye of the beholder and I further explained that the eyes of these beholders were steaming mad. He (wisely) offered to bring cash to Delhi the next day and pick up the jewelry. Excuse me? You will do what? Okay then. So we set up a time and crossed our ever-loving, ring-encrusted fingers. We laughed that if he offered to reduce the price, we might just keep the jewelry. We did love it after all.

Hubby – ever the pessimist – could not believe that this guy was really going to show up. Now it’s a funny story – but then – hubby was none too amused. My friends had the luxury of having their husbands in the U.S . – 8,000 miles away – and not knowing all the details. Me, I had Mr. Pessimist in all his glory. Not that he didn’t have reason to be doubtful. It didn’t sound or look good.

But half an hour early – God Bless him – that jeweler pulled up in front of the house. He had American $100 bills and he returned our money and took the jewelry back with him. He did not even offer to reduce the prices. I think it was fair to say that he was as done with us as we were with him. It was a pleasant enough exchange that ended with us both agreeing that we simply weren’t meant to do business together.

After he walked out the door and we all started breathing again, my friend looked up and said, “any chance these are counterfeit”?

“Only one way to find out,” I said and we marched ourselves right back to the jeweler in Delhi and bought some replacement pieces.

I guess it really is hard to teach an old mom new tricks. 😉

old delhi………

I have heard a lot about Old Delhi – and I finally got to go. It is not the place you want to venture out on your own for your very first visit. I never, ever felt in danger – in fact I got some of the most beautiful smiles I have seen since I have been here – but it is narrow and dusty and fast moving. It is not laid out neatly – you can easily get turned around. So, it’s just better not to go at it alone the first time. It was a super quick trip and I plan to go again – and soon. But for now, here is a little taste of what I saw.

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We rode the Delhi metro – it was loverly. Really clean and very easy to navigate. This is the way to go!

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There were lots of vendors selling food. It is beautiful but, no, I did not eat any of it.

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I loved this water pump – it seemed so out of place and so in place all at the same time. This man is washing off his broom.

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You could buy veggies. Very fresh veggies.

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And tassles. Yummy tassles.

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And you can see people working really hard.

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And animals working really hard.

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And more wires than you could ever count – in the land of technical assistance call centers – this irony is not lost.

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This guy was a great big smile just waiting to happen.

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A great big smile.

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The streets are narrow and crowded – but it is a fascinating place.

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I was offered medical books here. Too bad I don’t need medical books. There was quite a selection.

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And you know I loved the kick arse doors in this place. They rock!

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This visit was too short. I plan to go back and see the wedding district, the spice market, and the nut market. Plus whatever else the day has to offer.

Things are looking up…

I just found out that there is a city in India called Hyderabad. AKA – the City of Pearls. Now we are talking. I don’t know what I have been so worried about. What could be wrong with a country that has a city named after pearls. And I was a Chi Omega – our stone is a pearl  – this was meant to be.

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Please don’t bring me down by reminding me of the Yellow Brick Road – it looked so shiny and bright – but really not so much – there was that whole crazy wizard at the end and the flying monkeys. That didn’t go so well. Yeah, I know, we’re not in Kansas any more. But Dorothy took care of the witch so I shouldn’t need the ruby slippers – but pearls. Hmmm. That’s another story.