I have been in a magic treasure house!!
The hand-craft jeweller I bought some little studs from told me about it. I asked her, because she seemed as if she’d know the sort of places where I could while away a wet hour, ie not Next or wherever. So she said I’d like Bombay Stores, and told me vaguely where it was, and I found it.
It’s the biggest Asian department store in the UK. Outside is depressing, wet, gritty Bradford with muddy overflowing gutter waters pouring down the pavements into the grids. Inside is as if you’ve opened a door to climb into a rainbow. I don’t know where to start. So I pause, the Asian rap pulsing into my ears and I check I’m not the only non-Asian there. I’m not.
I head for the bridal wear. I’ve never seen Indian brides for real, only on television and I’m completely unprepared for the intensity of the sparkle and glitter of the vibrant sheers and satins delicately sewn with golden thread into a huge fretwork of crystals. A pure black sky on a night perfect for stars couldn’t look more crowded with galaxies. There are photos of brides. I think that whatever happens afterwards, a young woman must feel for a moment of time that she is a princess in a cloud of crystals exploded from a shattered diamond.
The price tags are stupendous. Thousands of pounds. The formal sarees, heavily embroidered, are hundreds. I can handle these: they’re heavy, brocaded, and the lacy patterns of beading and sequins clink and clash as the fabric slithers through my fingers. I respond to the iridescent colours: I want one. I would feel statue-like and gracious, I would move elegantly and gently, and the tails of the jewelled scarf would frisk as I glided on my way. I would be infused with beauty. I would choose an emerald one to echo my green eyes, one the colour of drifting water plants in a languid stream.
There’s no point my looking at the shoes, glamorously enticing in glass cases, pointed, delicate creations of pearls and leather. My clumpy European feet would never fit them. I would have simply to hold them, eyes closed and travel my fingers through the glistening glossy textures, like pouring pearls through water.
I pass the hanging rails of men’s clothes and pause by the shadowy dresses for the Muslim women. Even these black drabnesses have individual details, maybe pleats or buttons. I’d never known that before. I come to the everyday clothes, the packs of half made up suits, salwar kameez, tunics, trousers, in cheerful cottons or vivid rayon. You could buy a rainbow to hang in your wardrobe. Women are handling the fabrics, unravelling the bundles of cut pieces despite the notices exhorting them not to, arguing with the drapery assistant that this length of ribbon doesn’t match or this tassle is too short. It’s a bustling, purposeful environment, here.
I choose a scarf to buy. It’s huge, in black crepe (naturally for me!) and heavy with patterns of black crystals. It swings and swishes sensuously. I might just drape it over a piece of furniture. £5.99. I’m getting a bargain.
I spot the cookware and I examine it carefully. I want a dabba, like Ruby who taught me Indian cooking used to use. Here’s one, twelve pounds, a large stainless steel circular tin filled with smaller circular pots for spices and tiny engraved spoons. Definitely I have to have that, and I choose one.
Paying for my purchases, I talk to the store owner and ask him whether he knows of anywhere similar in Manchester. He says he’s been looking to open a store there, but the shop premises in a suitable area are staggeringly expensive and that’s for a tiny shop, even if one ever becomes vacant. It’s the restaurant trade, pushing the prices beyond the reach of shops which would serve the needs of the community, food, clothes and so on. The restaurants are drawing in people from a huge area and I know from my own observations that most of them are not Asian, although there’s often a good ethnic mix in the cafes and restaurants that’ve been recommended by Asian or Middle Eastern friends. I feel he is critical of the imbalance and I sympathise.
Outside it’s still pouring with rain. Someone’s let down or punctured the front tyre of my car. A man helpfully points it out. The next-but-one premises is a garage, fits tyres and exhausts. Funny, that.