A few months ago, we were in Barcelona, which, as shopping destinations go, is not my favourite city. I prefer the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, the souqs of Dubai or the bazaars of India. Barcelona offers the pleasures of Zara, H&M and Mango, but not much atmosphere as far as I was concerned.
My daughters, ages 18 and 12, were in heaven. My younger daughter, Malu, like me, can shop but it’s not her favourite thing to do. My elder daughter, Ranjini, on the other hand, finds pleasure in the looking and buying.
On this trip, I was determined to indulge Ranjini. Rather than make her feel guilty about shopping, I would use it as a way to find pleasure in her company. That was the plan anyway. Yet, something unexpected happened.
We entered the flagship store of H&M one afternoon. There were three floors of clothes, accessories, jewellery and shoes. Ranjini and I wandered through the aisles picking out sweaters, dresses and business coats for me. I was surprised at how much she knew about colour, proportion, cut and texture.
“That blue doesn’t suit you,” she said. “It makes your face look washed out.”
She sat outside the fitting room as I tried on blazer after dress suit after sweater, and had an appropriate comment for each. She helped me whittle down what seemed like a mountain of choices into a manageable one. Best of all, for the first time, shopping became a pleasurable activity for me.
“You know, you should be like one of those buyers for department stores,” I said. “When did you learn so much about clothes?”
Ranjini laughed. “I just like clothes, Ma,” she said. “It’s not like physics or anything.”
Two hours later, I was kitted out with the best business clothes I had ever owned. And they cost half of what I thought I would pay.
As for my daughter, she bought one skirt. And that too, under duress. It was my turn to feel guilty. “Why don’t you buy yourself something?” I asked.
Ranjini shrugged away my protests. She didn’t like what she saw, she said. “Shopping is not just about buying things, Ma. It’s also about looking and learning about trends. You see what’s new, see what’s in fashion, and figure out if the look will suit you. The pleasure is in the analysis, somewhat like what you do in museums,” she said – my daughter.
Indeed. Suitably chastised, I gazed at her, glowing with pride. I had dismissed shopping as a vain and frivolous exercise. It took an 18-year-old to show me that shopping was also a way of looking.
And so it came to be that over the course of four days, I learnt the tips and tricks of shopping from my daughter. Perhaps if we had been home, I wouldn’t have been so patient. At home, I had context and views on stores and stuff. “You certainly aren’t going to buy clothes from Soch, missy. Not with the annual sale just around the corner.” Or, “Why are you buying these designer clothes when you can get similar clothes at half price from Fab India?” Bereft of this perspective, I wandered around with my daughter. I had no views. I was out of my depth. And that, in retrospect, was the best thing that happened to us in Barcelona.
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