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Monsoons and Kurtas

The monsoons started yesterday at 5am. I awoke to the familiar, but intense sound of rain on rooftops and pavement. Though the sound of the downpour was beautiful, my mind jumped to my missing luggage.

With mud spraying up from the roadways and pond-sized puddles everywhere, a single pair of pants would not suffice. Without adequate drainage, the city becomes half-swamp until the sun shines again. So, after finishing the draft of our survey this afternoon, I stepped out to go shopping.

Shops are tightly packed on the streets and alleyways, in all manner of size and shape. Those with narrow entrances suggest that there’s little inside. But like the relatively the establishments in the capital city, the goods are in a dizzying amount and variation. It’s almost like a Kathmandu fractal, with every layer as chaotic and intriguing as the last.

I first stepped into a shop that sold a mix of Western and Nepali-style clothes. I picked a few things out while a tiny woman followed behind me trying to look helpful. It felt more like being stocked. At that moment I remembered that, as a Westerner, nothing would fit me.

Like most Europeans or North Americans, I tower above Nepali women and many Nepali men. With their two meals a day, and mostly vegetarian diet, they are more petite. It was like shopping in the juniors section, so I eventually left to continue my search.

Further down the road, I stepped into a kurta and sari shop. I sorted through the piles and piles of cloth, most of which were in brilliant oranges, pinks, and greens. Kurtas are worn almost exclusively in the Indian sub-continent, and are unisex robes with slight variations for men and women. Men’s often have long sleeves have a straighter cut. The women’s kurtas that I was looking at were bejewelled in a way I knew I would never be able to wear outside of Nepal. To the dismay of the shop attendants, I picked their plainest kurta — dark blue, not even a single accent thread.

The beauty of kurtas is that they come half finished. The fronts and backs are cut large and loosely tacked together. What I tied on was garishly big — a sleeveless tube that stretched to the top of my knees. But, pushing aside a gauze curtain in the back of the shop, I stepped into the tailor’s room. He measured me and then cut and finished the kurta on a foot-pedalled sewing machine while I drank a cup of spiced tea. I then fished out the triangular cuts of cloth tacked to the inside and the tailor attached the sleeves.

Twenty minutes later, I walked out with a perfectly fitted kurta and leggings. I may need to be wearing a kurta often, because none of the airlines seem to know where my bag is.

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