It was Wednesday. Kris was (and still is) on a sail boat somewhere between here and Bali, so I have been alone these past 2 weeks. I had the day off…something I needed desperately, as I work the rest of the week. I planned on sleeping in, getting the laundry and grocery shopping done ashore, catching up on lots of neglected chores, cooking myself some real food to take to work the rest of the week, maybe reading a book (William Boyd’s Waiting for Sunrise)…possibly even (oh, frisson of joy bordering on lust!) doing some arts & crafts that weren’t travel journal related.
Meanwhile, an old acquaintance of Kris’s had just got back to Darwin after spending two years in Goa, India. This guy often brings a whole sailboat loaded with Indian textiles, antiques, and jewelry back with him, to sell to the local hippie and “ethnic style” shops in town. This time around, Australia’s customs wouldn’t allow him to bring the stuff ashore unless he got every piece labelled with its country of origin and materials. A rule he didn’t know about. You can see what’s coming in this little story of mine, can’t you?
When Mr. Loon pulled up in his dinghy with the problem, I felt compelled to help him out…felt a bit sorry for him, I guess, though I don’t really know him all that well. So Wednesday was spent at the big table on the back deck, stitching a hundred little “Made in India. 100% cotton” labels onto embroidered blankets, throws and bedspreads, shawls, floor mats, wall hangings…while the sweat ran down my cheeks and dropped off the tip of my nose (as we are locked deep into the sultry heart of a tropical summer at the moment).
The colors were fabulous, and little bits of shisha winked at me from a thousand spots, but the embroidery work was very slipshod, rough and crudely done. Very disappointing. But I guess that’s what the trade has become, for the tourist market…these weren’t artisans or master crafters; these were just poor women trying to produce as much as they could in a short time, to earn enough to help the family. I had to remind myself that, in India, the professional embroiderers are actually the men. I’ve seen some amazing stuff on wedding sarees…the fine gold work and beads mixed with shaded silk embroidery is sumptuous, and meticulous beyond belief. In contrast, the stuff I was stitching up with labels is produced for white buyers like Mr. Loon, who can’t see the workmanship even when he’s looking right at it, because he doesn’t know what to look for. He’s spent quite a lot of money on some of these textiles, he told me…a bit of a worry. You’ve all heard the saying “You get what you pay for”? I think Terry Pratchett improved on that one by adding “…if you know what you’re doing. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you get what you deserve.”
But I got something for my troubles, in the end (you betcha!) When the merchant came back I put my hand on one hanging that I’d left unpacked. It was printed, patchworked silk on one side, printed cotton on the other, no embroidery or mirrors, and I liked the primary colors very much! “This one? This one I want.” The audacity.
He laughed and gave it to me. So I do have something pretty to show for the day my boat became a one-woman sweatshop!