We pull up outside Pothys and the street is dusty and heaving. Mustard yellow rickshaws screech to a stop at the entrance, drivers honking their horns as they mount the pavement. Excited women pour out of the shop with silks and shawls spilling out of their tote bags, chattering loudly about their purchases. Their exhausted husbands trail behind.
I had wanted to buy a traditional Indian outfit and was pointed in the direction of Pothys, a South Indian garments chain specialising in silk sarees. It seemed that the store had also been recommended to the entire female population of Tamil Nadu, but this wasn’t too daunting for someone who’s previously braved the Next sale at 6am. I can be pretty efficient with my elbows when heels are being flogged for a fiver.
Walking through the doors, a kaleidoscope of colours and fabrics unravelled before me and resisting the temptation to run my hands along the assortment of cottons and satin became impossible. We winded up the stairs and as we ascended through the store, the clothes got cheaper and the rooms, more chaotic. I reached the salwar kameez (the Indian tunic and trousers) floor, not quite ready to brave the complex folds and tucks of the saree. It appeared that I had entered a rather upscale Primark: clothes tossed in every available space with no apparent order, but with wifi and staff that looked genuinely happy to see me.
I approached a rack jammed with saffrons, turquoises and magentas and began to paw at things at random. I pulled out tunic after tunic, holding them against my body, only to toss them back in defeatedly. “Starting size ma’am, starting size!” – I whirled round to face the shop assistant who was behind me, holding various outfits. “Starting size? What? Ah, you mean this tunic doesn’t come in a smaller size?” (In reality this apparently simple exchange took five minutes of exchanging grunts, searching expressions and shrugged shoulders). After taking one salwar into the “trial room” (again this took a lot of brain power from me to figure out the shop assistant meant a changing room), I returned to find that the staff had laid out an array of the most beautifully embroided tops and scarves for me. It sort of felt like I was in Pretty Woman when I saw the price tags of these piles of clothes, except no rich older man was there to pick up the bill for me.
I had no idea what I was doing. None of the tunics seemed to have sleeves like I’d seen all the women in Chennai and Coimbatore wearing and the variety of trousers available was baffling (MC Hammer is apparently still quite the style icon here). Noticing my plight, a young woman took me under her wing and led me to the section I was looking for, explaining that the sleeves were actually tucked inside the tunic, ready to be measured and sewn on. She then sent me off to fly (probably a little too soon for this baby bird) and I picked out a simple hot pink tunic with tight fitting white leggings and a matching shawl.
After paying, I was led to the fruit and veg stand (Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Primark anymore) where you were given free food depending on your purchase. My measly buy meant we were only eligible for some rather sad looking lettuce, but we were such a novelty in the store that a bag of juicy oranges was thrown at us instead.
One salwar kameez down, now time to try a saree!