Shirt-Shopping in Amritsar

The majority of men in India between the ages of 10 and 40 wear some seriously funky threads: a skinny, dusty appropriation of seventies glam rock chic, future flouros, and faded retro paisley. Big-collared patterned shirts, bell-bottom flares, and luminous synthetic tank tops are the norm, but far from ordinary.

And these are not hipsters we’re talking about, these are ordinary men. On occasion I have been so enamoured by a passing shirt that I have contemplated offering a construction worker a week’s wages or a cycle rickshaw man the equivalent of a 400 kilometre fare in return for their psychedelic attire. And it begs the question, just where do they get these vintage delights?

indian man on train to amritsar

Then, in Amritsar in Punjab, I find it. The holy grail. Two streets near Gandhi Gate lined with stall after stall selling piles of second-hand shirts of similar brilliance to those that have tormented and teased me around India.

One roadside stall has lucked out – it has the most colourful and garish shirts imaginable. After touching and stroking like a demented cross-breed of a magpie and a flamboyant fashion designer, I settle on two of the most violently patterned, shockingly wonderful shirts I have ever seen – a purple paisley number made from pure silk and a white cotton shirt covered with a near offensive medieval motif. The bargaining begins. Alive with the joy of new additions to my collection, I strut off towards the train station.

roadside dentist amritsar

After negotiating the chaotic traffic and trudging alongside the roadside dentists, I am blessed for the second time that day. Opposite the train station is a road dotted with tables that are piled high with not just shirts but jumpers, jackets, flares, T-shirts, and other delicious garments culled from the last five decades.
shirt-shopping amritsar

These clothes are stained but spectacular, damaged but determined, pulled out of shape but proud: these are Indian clothes, no matter what the labels say. I shoulder my way between be-turbaned treasure hunters and begin to grasp at the fabrics, clawing these clammy costumes and forcing my too-large frame into jumpers and T-shirts much to the delight of all around me. The rival stalls shout, battling for my business in a ferocious call and response in Hindi. I let myself be dragged from one mound of marvels to another. So this is what heaven feels like.

amritsar balcony

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Tom Spooner

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