Monday, July 17, 2006

Cost Of A Shirt

It is Indian summer this year and mangoes have been plentiful. I hope this is a sign that the fruit turning mainstream instead of being exotic and tropical (read expensive). It has been years since I visited India and I sorely miss the cotton dresses that I do not have. The bandhni and mirror work gypsy skirts, the Madras cotton blouses. I find myself craving pure white cotton nearly all the time which unlike the recently proletarianized mango is still obscenely expensive. Seeing the "Made in India" tag tells me exactly what the markup is and what the "real" cost of this name brand shirt is.

It brings to mind pictures of poor exploited women and children toiling away in sweatshops for a pittance - I used to know a woman like that once. Her husband was a wastrel and content with the family miring in poverty. The woman wanted a better life. She snipped extra thread from designer jeans other women had sewn ten to twelve hours every day. She was just an apprentice without any experience in the trade.

I remember the excitement in her voice when she told me that her supervisor had moved her up to sewing buttons - it meant more money. With the extra money she indulged herself in small ways. A strand of fresh jasmine on her hair, a lipstick, a new school uniform for her child. Her ability to earn money made her glow with an inward happiness.

I remember her knocking at my door well past midnight bruised and bloody, too broken for tears. Her husband suspected her of sleeping with her boss to get her "promotion". He wanted her to quit. "What shall I do ?" she asked me. All I could do was to hold her, tell her she was doing right by herself and the children, that she would overcome in the end.

Something changed shortly after this incident. The husband seemed to have lost his sting even she was growing in stature. Her collection of saris and trinkets was growing rather conspicuously and she wore them with much pride. It was out of curiosity that I asked her how she had managed to subdue her husband.

"I told him to his face that he hadn't been able to get it up for years. He should be grateful I was not bringing other men home. I found out that impotence is a ground for divorce" she answered. "Are you going to leave him ?" I asked. "Why should I ? I have a husband in name and my freedom as well" she said with a knowing smile. " I will tell the whole community that he's useless in bed if he ever lays a finger on me. He knows and that's why he'll stay quiet" she added contently.

When I add all that up, I wonder what is a fair price to pay for a "Made in India" tag.


Priyamvada_K said...

You should watch the movie Teen Deewarein, if you haven't already.


Heartcrossings said...

No, I have not watched the movie. I read about it on IMDB and it sounds very interesting. Thanks for the recommendation.