Shopping for Saris in Delhi

A couple months ago, one of my wife’s best friends, who is Indian, got engaged, which caused my wife a great deal of excitement for two reasons: first, obviously she was overjoyed for her friend, and second, because she couldn’t wait to attend their Indian wedding. As if by fate, I was going to India for IBD, and suddenly my project scope had expanded to include a new deliverable: buying my wife two saris for the wedding and reception. Now, buying clothes for another person is challenging in and of itself, but buying a wedding outfit for another person is even harder, and when that wedding outfit is a sari… yikes—suddenly solving the issue of rural healthcare in India for our client seemed simple by comparison. I was relieved when my wife sent me off with the simplest of instructions: to get one blue-ish sari and one reddish sari. Such an open-ended request… two primary colors… how could I go wrong?!

In my first of many trips to several sari shops, I quickly realized how unbelievably in over my head I was. Now, sari shops are pretty awesome. They have walls lined with hundreds of saris of all types, and the employees will just start laying a bunch in front of you according to your guidance. All you have to do is sit back, relax, and let the beautiful saris come to you. At least that’s how it should work in theory, but all that selection can backfire when you have no idea what you’re looking for. There were saris of every shade of every color, saris made out of different fabrics (silly me, I had always thought silk was silk), saris of different styles (e.g. traditional South Indian vs. modern… I’m still not really sure how to make this distinction), and saris with all different types and amounts of beaded and embroidered work on them. Suddenly I realized “get me a bluish and a reddish sari” was about as much direction as asking a chef to make some food involving an animal and a vegetable. After looking in a couple different stores and a couple dozen saris, I knew I needed additional guidance. So, I had my wife send over pictures of different saris that she liked so I had some idea of the colors and designs I should be looking for. Armed with this new information, I felt confident I’d succeed. After all, I just had to find something that matched one of the designs my wife had sent over… even a trained monkey can match similar-looking objects.

I went with Sameera to a popular chain store called Nalli, which promised to have a bevy of beautiful saris. But, after half an hour of turning down sari after sari, I started to despair… I wasn’t seeing anything I really liked. Something was always off—the color, the design, the amount of work, the price. I left the store feeling defeated, but I wasn’t about to throw in the towel.

The next day, Sameera again accompanied me to another popular chain, Chhabra 555. This was a somewhat smaller store than Nalli, but it turned out to be a goldmine. I quickly found a festive and fancy red sari with gold flowers embroidered on it, perfect for the reception. Then, we found a gorgeous dark blue-ish purple sari with incredible red and gold embroidery around the edges. Finally, my work was done, and the smile on my wife’s face when she saw the saris made all the effort well worth it.

—Mike Young

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