After having lunch at Amrutha cafe, my wife, Kanakam, and I, walked down the Devon Street known as “Little India” in Chicago. We window-shopped, stopping here and there to admire a huge brass Ganesh or a well-dressed mannequin in a sari looking almost real or to appreciate the smell of spicy foods as we passed by a restaurant. Sometimes we paused on the sidewalk to listen to an old movie song in front of a CD store which brought childhood memories of India.
Suddenly, Kanakam stopped in front of Bijli Jewelers. An attractive female mannequin, clad in a pink Salwar Kameez and a dark red dupatta stood in the showcase sporting a diamond necklace and a diamond bracelet, which dazzled under the overhead LED lights. On the right side, a middle-aged male mannequin wearing a kurta and pajamas proudly exhibited a Rolex, “The Sea Dweller.” Next to him stood a young man clad in a shirt and pants showing off another Rolex, “The Sky-Dweller.”
“Get a Rolex, Raju,” suggested Kanakam.
“These watches are not for me. They’re for the sea and sky dwellers,” I quipped.
“I’m an earth dweller, Raju. Let’s go in, just looking, not buying.”
“Kanakam, your name means gold in Sanskrit, 50 Kgs of it. Why do you want to go in?”
A teenage girl giggled behind us.
“Uncle is like this. Always cutting jokes.” Said Kanakam to the teenager. We went in.
Bijli was a huge jewelry store. The ground floor displayed relatively cheaper 14 K gold ornaments and some with semiprecious stones. The second floor carried gold jewels, pure diamond solitaires, rings, bracelets and diamond necklaces that sparkled under the ceiling lights.
Kanakam led me to the second floor.
“Namaste, Doctor Raju Sab and Mrs. Kanakam. I haven’t seen you since last Diwali time,” Padma, the sales person, greeted. She was middle-aged and wore a burgundy Mysore silk sari with a matching blouse and a charming smile. Her Solitaire Earrings and a square link diamond necklace glittered like sparkles on Diwali night. We knew Padma well.
“Your earrings are beautiful. Did you get them here?” My wife asked Padma.
“The boss lets us wear these. I can’t afford them. We are kind of living mannequins. What can I do for you today?”
“I’m looking for diamond bangles.” Kanakam said.
“Good. I saw you stop near that showcase. They are cheap ones, not for you. Come with me.”
We followed her past glass doors in to a small room with several showcases. Statues of Ganesh and Lakshmi wreathed by artificial jasmines garlands stood on a table at a corner. The fragrance of sandalwood lingered in the air.
Padma pulled a couple of cushioned chairs for us. “Have a look at the diamond bangles, bracelets, rings and necklaces. Most diamonds are of VVS2 quality. Take your time. Whatever you like, I will show them to you.”
I knew diseases, not diamonds. This VVS2 language was Latin to me. I nodded as if I were familiar with diamond terminology.
Kanakam felt happy for the special attention she was getting. “Show me some bangles, Padma.”
“We recently received a batch of these.” Padma opened the showcase and gently picked up a pair of white-gold bangles. Groups of five diamonds were placed intermittently along the circumference. Padma polished the bangles with a lint free cloth and placed them on a black fabric. “We haven’t showed it to anyone yet.”
My wife put them on easily. She studied them at a close range, looked their refection in the mirror, went near a window and inspected them in the daylight and asked me, “How are they?”
“The bangles look beautiful on you.”
“Yes Kanakam, they are elegant and will match any sari perfectly,” Padma said.
“I think they are a little loose. Do you have any a shade smaller?”
“Sure.” Padma scrutinized her collection and picked up a pair of gold bangles with diamonds all around. “These are of size 2.4, a little smaller in diameter. Try these, Kanakam.”
“Are you sure these are smaller?”
Padma picked up the gold bangle and placed the white-gold one under it. “Look, this one is smaller.” Kanakam was skeptical. Padma grabbed a ruler and measured the diameter. “It’s size 2.4, definitely smaller. Please try these.”
One bangle got stuck at Kanakam’s knuckles. She couldn’t push it in. She borrowed a little moisturizing cream from Padma and slipped the bangles easily past her knuckles. “Padma, I have this problem of prominent knuckles. When I go through the security at the airport, I’m always delayed while I struggle to remove these.”
Kanakam raised her hands to my eye level and asked me smiling, “Maharaj, how are these?”
When a Maharani asks, what could a Maharaj say? “Perfect. In fact, because of you these bangles are looking more beautiful.”
“What a charming husband you have,” said Padma.
Kanakam studied the bangles carefully. “Padma, I feel these are too tight.”
“You’ll get used to them. After a couple of times, they will slide off easily like skates on ice. I’ve seen your teen daughter last time when she accompanied you. Beautiful girl. She could share the bangles on special occasions. We have only six of this particular model. We are not expecting any more. You know Kanakam, now the trend is to wear three bangles on each wrist.” Padma took rest of the bangles from the showcase, polished and made Kanakam to wear them. “Very lovely.”
“I like them. I guess I’ll have them.” Kanakam looked at me coyly. I took out my wallet.
“Let me call my boss, Doctor. He’ll give you a good deal. Now, why don’t you get ear studs for your daughter? We have a good collection.”
“Thank you. We’ll be back at Sankranti time.”
Mr. Rahul, the boss, calculated the amount of gold, the number of carats in the diamonds and the labor costs, added them up and handed me a piece of paper.
I glanced at it and gave it to Kanakam. She looked and handed it back to me with a knowing smile, as if to say, “It’s up to you.”
“Doctor Sab, each bangle costs $3,500 and the total comes to $21,000. You are our regular customer, so here is the bottom line.” Rahul scribbled $20,400 on the piece of paper. “That’s it.”
I gave my credit cards and the transaction was completed. Rahul handed Kanakam the six diamond bangles in a small red box and the guarantee papers, placing them carefully in a cloth bag. My wife was overjoyed.
We came out. I said softly, “Kanakam, while entering I thought you said, ‘just looking, not buying.’”
“My love, after twenty years of marriage, don’t you know what ‘just looking,’ means?”