The spendahol continued to flow like wine in Mamallapuram, and we lapped it up like old bums.
Ben was in serious need of a shirt, having packed exclusively heavyweight cotton t-shirts and needing an alternative to stealing mine (which was originally his, but you know, whatever). He really wasn’t feeling the hippy clothes in the tourist ghetto in Mam though, which as the guide puts it “sells Indian clothes no Indian would wear”. So we headed into the more Indian parts of Mam and checked out the shirt shops there, but these shirts were too much like something you’d find in an office, or else lurid cowboy checks. We beat a hasty retreat, and I teased him that he didn’t want the clothes an Indian would wear either.
Finally, the day before we left Mam I was walking past a shop full of dresses that looked suspiciously like Primark-fare (interspersed with the hippy shops and Indian shops are a few selling secondhand western goods it seems). Attracted by a Ganesh t-shirt I nipped inside, and discovered a shirt of the sort I felt was sure to delight Ben. Loose, airy, brightly coloured with a Hawaiian-style hibiscus print. I skipped out of the shop with glee and dragged him back by the hand. This was the shirt. Unfortunately it was a little big, and so was the price of 350 rupees (that’s about five pounds in the old money, but to put it in perspective for you, 25% of our daily budget).
So we set about haggling. We had the guy down to 250 and Ben was pressing for 230, threatening to walk out of the shop and catch a bus to Pondicherry. The desperate shopkeeper said “okay, I call my master to ask if it’s okay”. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to reach him, we said forget it. The poor shopkeeper looked a little stricken, and then suddenly grabbed the shirt and said “okay, I sell it to you for 200, but you must not tell my master. You must not tell anyone! Quick, hide it in your bag! If my master finds out I will lose my job!”
I’ve still no idea whether this was genuine or the most accomplished sales acting I’ve ever seen, but needless to say we stuffed the shirt in our bag and left sharpish.
This little feat was followed by the location of yet another Tom Robbins book we haven’t read (I’m starting to worry a little about Robbins overdose, three more novels winging their way from London with my sister next week).
But the spendahol frenzy reached its zenith (or nadir, depending on your view of conspicuous consumption) as we walked to the 5 rathas monument, on a road lined with stonemasons’ shops. Passing a stunning statue of Shiva, we stopped to admire the artist’s carved marble elephants. We were instantly captivated: an elephant with a back carved into an elaborate lattice, with a smaller elephant carved within it, and a third elephant inside that! After some umming and ahhing about how the hell we would get it home, and the very kind offer from our friend Dan to transport the pachyderms to Bristol (thank you again Dan!), we paid the man 2000 rupees to take home the most stunning souvenir imaginable.
Now it’s beans and rice and a 180 rupee room for a week to try and atone…