I was a tomboy until 30, but only when it came to saris. I dreaded social events for fear of having to wear one. I could not even dress myself in one. Whether it was the prospect of baring un-toned flesh or having to manage balancing myself, it simply was not a prospect I relished.
However, one fine day, that changed. I developed a growing interest, and a desire to find the most beautiful saris ever made. I learned to dress myself, and to my mother's delight, showed an interest in accompanying on sari-buying trips.
As most of you know, the sari is a traditional Indian garment. It is basically around 5 meters long, and could be handwoven, hand-printed, or manufactured by a machine. Obviously, the former options create unique and more expensive saris. Saris are rarely the same, which adds to its charm. Not only do they come in different fabrics (silk, crepe, cotton etc) but in styles unique to a state or region (South Indian, Benarasi etc). The price range of saris extends from about $10 to $10000, depending on the quality of the fabric and the intricacy and uniqueness of the design.
My family's favorite sari shop in Kolkata is Savera. Situated practically opposite St. Xavier's College, it is an institution for all sari enthusiasts. They have a wide repertoire to suit all tastes and extremely knowledgeable (and persuasive!) sales staff.
They have a knack for remembering repeat customers, and show their appreciation by offering you complimentary drinks and Indian snacks! This age-old marketing technique works wonders with the customers (well I bought quite a few after being satiated with their free offerings)!
This is how it works: You walk in, and give a brief description of what you are looking for (color, fabric, type of design if you have a very specific request). They ask you to take a seat, and start showing you a wide range of saris, which roughly tallies with your requests. You either accept or reject from the ones shown. This helps the salesperson to ascertain your taste more specifically and refine his catalog. Even if you walk in and say you have no idea what you want, that's fine! The same technique is followed, only more time may be needed.
Apart from the bevy of salespeople who show clients the saris, there are also usually a few 'apprentices' who fold away the saris after it has been shown, ready for the next client. Their job is just to fold the saris. But while they engage in this fairly mind-numbing job, they are expected to observe the sales staff and learn from them. If they have the knack and the desire, they might be promoted to sales one day.
So that's sari shopping in Kolkata in a nutshell. These pictures were taken in Savera in February 2008.
Savera 95, Park Street, Kolkata -