October 2019. My hectic last day in India.

I am on the road again, after just three hours sleep. I have watched the sun rise over the pink city of Jaipur as I have sat in the car, on my way to the airport in Delhi.

We had a crazy day yesterday, my last day here. It was a typically remarkably busy last day for me. Other buyers I know, and love seem to have everything together by the end of their trips, sometimes calmly doing yoga or gloatingly swimming on their last day. That is something I have never been able to achieve! The work for me here is a never-ending ongoing process and is never actually done!

So, I started the day with an early morning visit from a jeweller who I had to pay some money to, for someone else. He lingered politely hoping that I would miraculously give him an order straight out if mid-air, so I explained that my main business was clothing and that was that.

We hired a rickshaw for the morning to take us round about in town to various gemstone suppliers and to two jewellers. The first was a whistle stop at one of the most prestigious jewellers in all Jaipur. Originally this family has been the gold smiths of the Maharajah of Jaipur. Ella and I were in family heirloom business, picking up investment pieces that various members of our family had asked us to find for them. We had found a collection of opal and gold rings, one for my Mother, one for my sister and one for my niece, Ella’s sister. They all have more money than both me and Ella, but we were more than happy to spend it for them! Photos had already been sent back to the U.K. and our bank accounts had been topped up by each of them in the U.K. Our debit cards groaned under the weight of it all! Oh, how exciting though, as we walked out of the shop with our amazing gold and opal rings, fit for a Maharajah! Ella has never had so much money go out of her bank account in one go and was clearly shocked by it all! The jeweller, so cool and calm whilst surrounded by a shop absolutely dripping with exquisite gold and gemstones. There we were wrapped up in the somewhat sickening contrast — of where we were, and what we were doing, against the where we had been, and what we had been doing.

Our sly eyed rickshaw was waiting outside, and we “popped” to the next jeweller. We were there to pick up and pay for silver jewellery goods selected earlier on our trip. It took a while for our goods to be located, and even longer for bills to be made. Ella’s small selection had vanished. We sat patiently on the floor and were treated so wonderfully, served chai and plates of biscuits, and given pillows to sleep on. How tired I am looking after coming from our trip — feeling pretty done in, in the body — so energised in spirit.

Eventually my bill was ready, checked over and paid, with just one item rejected due to it being three times the price I had expected.

Next stop my paper printer, to check on our show invitation cards, to pick up our price stickers and our “This is not a toy” stickers, and our clothing tags which were not ready but are to be made with a new jute thread so we can start to reduce the plastic “pins” widely used. It is a tiny move in the right direction.

Next the phone rang to say that I had forgotten my pencil case at the previous place. So, a trip back to pick that up. Then on to a gemstone dealer to pick up and pay for a bag of stones we had painstakingly selected last week. The lovely man in the shop showed us everything else, and his new batch of opals and aqua marines whilst he searched here and there to find our long-awaited selection pieces. He clearly could not find our stuff and I started to get impatient, time was running along, and we were getting late. So, in the end I just chose another lot of opals, these things must be selected and bought as you see them, otherwise they can disappear, never to be seen again!

Outside our rickshaw was still waiting — we popped back out of the congested bit to town to our roof top.

Quick cup of tea and gathering of samples and files and it was off out, this time in the heat of the day in our own little car. First, we stopped to talk to our Kashmiri friend and hear all about the curfews and total internet and media lock down that is presently going on in Kashmir. There is nothing about this in the news, I have heard guarded whispers about it along the way — and we are worried about Brexit — now there is some perspective — pointed out by my German Scottish jeweller friend who had drank tea on our rooftop into the previous night. Our Kashmiri friend looked so sad and said, “All we want is to live in peace”.

Into our hot car and into the traffic heading out of town, we got into the worst bit, where you just have to breathe deeply and edge along into the tiny spaces that present themselves in front of you, and try to tune out the endless and pointless hooting of horns, and try to breathe deeply, but not take in all the billowing fumes from the thousands of vehicles. In the seething mass of traffic, I suddenly realise that in the shock of all the Kashmir stories I had left the bag of samples and my file behind! We edge along and then turn around at the “circle” and head back to the rooftop, Ella jumping out to grab the stuff whilst I turn the car around again.

Late for our next meeting with our main jewellery supplier I simply check the bill total that is all ready and waiting for me. I do not even have to bother to check each item, this guy is so good, and we know the rhythms of how our business goes. He will send our goods on to us in the U.K. in a few days’ time. I am grateful for the efficiency and the kindness. So many people work from a heart space, so constantly, it is humbling.

Finally, on, further out of town to our exporters house and factory — there is a tonne of work to get through, but we start our time just being together without work. We eat good food and have good chats, all too personal for here. They are great friends.
We start the work, Ella and I splitting up to different departments to try to save time. It has already 5 o’clock and there is simply too much to do.

I prioritise by sitting with the pattern master and getting out all the new patterns and measuring them, writing specification forms for our wholesale customers. Blimey it is a nightmare job! Measuring patterns, grading them, measuring samples, finding so many mistakes! It is 8 o’clock and we are uncovering a big can of worms. Phones are ringing and wives and children are asking their fathers to come home. They keep saying, “Yes, I’ll be there in ten minutes”. We keep measuring.

My Hindi is not good enough to solve every problem and the exporter is called upstairs again and again.

We carry on measuring things, checking again and again. The figures must be in centimetre and in inches. This is so boring and must be so exacting for our U.K. clients, here I feel on the brink of being between two worlds. This one here is world that operates in flow.

The sizing patterns for one particular dress make no sense at all, I am so relieved that I’ve discovered this engineering problem whilst I am here, and that only 70 of three hundred pieces have been cut and stitched! Eeeek!

Each will have to be unstitched and redone — that is a big job.

I do not want another three boxes of rejected items clogging up my already overflowing go-down. The Bazaar team can hardly move as it is! Finally, I am satisfied that everything is ironed out and Raju is released to his wife and children. Now it is 9.30.

My early morning taxi is being booked, Ella is having a different kind of nightmare in the “showroom”, a huge underground hall that I prefer to call the “showdown” — no one gets my little joke.

I find her in a huge complicated mess of bills and pricing, surrounded by seven very willing helpers! All the textiles that we had recently collected from the villages had arrived on a bus earlier that day. The exporters car had been unable to pick everything up from the bus stand, in one go, because there was just too much of it. They did two trips, delaying the process for a further hour or two.

Some bundles had been opened at the bus stand and unpacked to save space in the car, consequently muddling up different people’s goods, making it hard to remember who supplied what, from which bill and at what cost! Each item must be priced, logged, and packed for the official cargo in a very precise way. It is a different kind of nightmare and I found Ella looking knackered and stressed with a team of Hindi speaking helpers who can be particularly challenging to manage!

We line up each item and count out the paper tags, handwriting the top one with the price and description. When the tags are counted out, each item is ticked off one local bill, written onto an export bill.

There are about 600 saris from someone else’s order scattered around all over the place — our stuff is dumped on top!? Some items must have their borders stitched; some cushion covers must have their linings added. Some things must be sent for washing. Everyone says yes, and everyone crowds around each pricing job in a way that is so inefficient we wonder if this will ever end!

I have quite a lot of blue tile pottery hooks that I have to carry home in my luggage. These are extremely late and have been delivered by a sweet old man just a day or two before, they must be individually wrapped in bubble wrap and bar coded. Ella has a moment of screen rage on the old computer since the barcode software is refusing to work and the computer is so antiquated that she cannot get her head around it!

Finally, the correct barcodes are printed, by the machine we have supplied from the U.K. we hope these barcode will work, the last lot printed here in India just did not scan properly and we were charged “rectification” by the warehouse who received our goods.

U.K. rectification charges can outstrip profits on these small handicrafts.

Meanwhile I’m dealing with emails from the trusty Bazaar team in the U.K. Our Nepal cargo has arrived with lots of felted slippers, the like of which we have been running large production of for several years. This year, the tiger slippers arrived with yellow ears, not black ears, and our customer had rejected them. Ouch! Anyway, whilst Dan was experimenting with dip dying the ears, and I was suggesting unstitching them and just getting new black ears sent so we could sew on the right colour ears, (there’s only about 700 ears to do) finally and thankfully, the buyer in the U.K. relented and took the decision to accept the stock. Pheweeee!

Now it was 10 o’clock and there was not enough bubble wrap to pack the blue tiles, and my big bag that I had left here last week was missing. So, the shop keeper down the road was called to reopen his shop to release more bubble wrap, (more plastic, I sigh and ask about biodegradable bags again) and the wrapping and barcoding continued. Counting and recounting, two different colours, two different barcodes, “Don’t muddle them up!”

By now no one can walk anywhere without standing on piles of unravelling saris and boxes of half packed items, there are complicated messes of tags, some saying this, some saying that, and it looks like we will never get home. We joke together about “how many Indians it takes to pack one box”, as six men tackle it together, then unpack it, find another box, repack it, unpack it and repack it.

My 6am taxi is finalised and booked, and I receive a driver name, a taxi and mobile number.

By now, Ella is just doing everything on her own, retreated behind her earphones!

I urge her to be the organiser, to act more like the boss, sit at the table and line up the jobs for everyone to do. “You write the paperwork and let them sort the stuff, count it, put on the labels and pack. You just write out the top label, count out the rest and leave them to handle the rest so you can keep the paperwork in order.”

Now, not everyone can write, not everyone can count, not everyone is qualified in ways we foreigners expect so that is also a bit complicated, but Ella has got a fairly good handle of things, better than she thinks. She does, however, look like she has had enough of me and all this stuff!

Finally, around 11.30, most of the main muddles are solved. I am satisfied that Ella will manage to pack and sort the remainder of the goods in my absence, with the help of the trusty team!

The showdown which looks like a bomb has hit it, is closed and everyone rushes home to wives kept awake — waiting.

We retire to the house and are served our yummy supper, which we are very hungry for. Finally, we say our goodbyes and give our blessings and love. Ella will be back in the next few days before her flight and I will be back next time. My children and husband have waited for a month!

Ella and I sit in our rooftop haven and we are so overstimulated that we chat for couple of hours and I fiddle with my luggage — find my ticket, from my bag downstairs, down six flights to retrieve it from between two snoring reception staff, who are asleep on mats on the ground next to my bag. Find my passport, try online check in only to find the Wi-Fi is so slow I cannot do it, count the last rupees out so both Ella and I have enough for our onward journeys. I find my warm clothes and heavy shoes; I will be needing them soon.

I fret about the jobs she must do in the next few days, in my absence, and go over things again. “You’ve already told me that!” She says.

“As you know, around here it doesn’t hurt to say things are few times over!”

I set my alarm, three and a half hours of sleep I count. I wonder how I will ever wake up. I set two more alarms.

I wake in good time and spend the journey not sleeping as expected but writing, a fairly manic flow. The driver is quiet but impressed with my Hindi and keeps looking at my typing, and his phone, instead of the road. Eventually I tell him to leave the texting out. He complies.

He keeps on asking me what time my flight is. I tell him we are in exceptionally good time; my flight is not until 2.45. He eventually stops worrying.

At the airport I pile my ridiculous amount of luggage onto the trolley, tip the driver and wave Namaste.

It is not possible to even enter the airport without a valid ticket. When it is my turn in the queue, I stand patiently wondering why on earth it is taking the guard so long to check the ticket. Finally, he says, “You missed the flight”.

“What?” I say

“It’s at 02.45, in the early morning, means it’s gone already”

With horror I look at it again, for the tenth time this week, and yes, lo and behold I have completely missed my flight.

That is an expensive mistake indeed! Oh no oh woe!

So, I trundle around outside to the airline office and buy another ticket for the next flight, luckily, I got one!

I work out whilst waiting to check in that actually had I not done last night’s late shift, but left for the right flight time I may not have uncovered the can of worms with the pattern master, which defiantly would have cost more than the cost of the extra flight. Thank goodness, that helped to ease the blow, and I have got three seats to myself and no more battery on my tablet, so finally I may sleep!