When you have been here for a while, you start to notice these moments. They are unique to the sub-continent and if you are in good spirits they make you laugh. If you are having a bad day they can tip you over the edge. They are called 'Indian moments'.
The other morning, after a night of relentless head scratching, I begged mum to check my hair, yet again, for creepy crawlies. So we were sitting outside the hut, in the sun, and she was diligently searching my scalp. And then some of the older boys wandered up, for whatever reason, saw what we were doing, and stood and watched. They said nothing. Just stared for five minutes or so until they got bored. Then they left. Mum and I just looked at each other in acknowledgement of this Indian moment.
We went shopping the other day. Just because. When you live in the jungle anrd spend every day covered in dirt (and recently oil, thanks to an ill-conceived idea to rust proof a fence) it is sometimes nice to be around things that are clean and new. So we went shopping.
Traditional Indian clothes stores tend to avoid coat hangers, so to browse you must lean over the counter and point to what you want to look at and then the assistant will pull it out. You have a quick look, realise it isn't really you and then the scene begins all over again. This makes shopping for a top quite an investment of your time, but it is certainly an interactive activity. It also means that in most clothes shops the counters are piled high with colourful rejects.
We went into one of these shops. I found a scarf, mum found some leggings and just as we were going to pay, she spotted something bright pink sticking out from the fabric mountain on the counter. They were cotton pants, exactly what she was looking for. She pulled them out and decided she would like them, they would go perfectly with a tunic that had not yet been paired (wearing a dress with no pants or leggings underneath is simply unheard of in rural India). She took them to the counter with our other choices, ready to leave happy and satisfied, and then this happened...
"Oh no madam, not those pants".
"Oh yes, I would like these please. Just these three."
"No madam. You can't buy those pants."
"I can't buy these pants?"
"Why? This is a clothes shop and I have selected these clothes and I now wish to pay for them."
(I suspect some of her responses may have been lost on the three men behind the counter, but they certainly amused us).
"No madam. They are part of a set. You cannot buy them alone."
"Right. I don't want a top, but where is it? I'll have a look anyway."
The two underlings then spent a good fifteen minutes hunting for the matching top. They rummaged through cupboards, scanned all the shelves and sifted through the fabric mountains. At one point they pulled out a new dress, with bright green pants and suggested mum might prefer those. She did not. We were all in fits of laughter by now, commentating on their fruitless search as they doggedly pursued it. They realised she wanted pink pants and pulled out numerous other pants of different shades and fabric and tried to convince us they were the same.
After this had gone on for some time I thought we may be there all day if nobody said anything and I asked if, in fact, there even was a top that went with these pants.
I was met with laughter and renewed searching.
"I don't actually want the top guys. If there is no top why can I not simply buy the pants?"
"No, no, no. It is part of a set you see."
"Uhhhhh huh. But you haven't got the set, the pants are all alone and why. Simply why."
"Ahhh, they are our last pair of cotton pants this colour. We have no more."
Finally we understood (sort of). The pants had no top but they were the last of their breed in store. So if someone happened to come in and want a top that these pants would match, the clerks would be in quite the pickle.
"Ok fine. That doesn't make sense but fine. We will just take these two."
And as we were paying, one of the underlings held up the offending pair of pink cotton pants and said "stitch?"
This set us off. We were in hysterics. We had just spent well over half an hour discussing the sale of these pants, which was 'not possible' as they were the last pair and now they were telling us they could stitch us some...
They did not understand why this was funny. We paid, thanked the men, and left the shop laughing incredulously over our Indian moment.
You could go mad in this country. So sometimes it is wise just to sit and stare at the skies. Thankfully, they are often magnificent.