The drycleaner is taking a long time to find my dance costume. I scan the mass of clothes carefully wrapped in plastic and crammed together on the rack for a tussar silk with a purple border. I don’t see it. He goes into the back room and after some time finally comes out carrying my costume.
Something tells me to carefully examine each of the four pieces. As I do, I notice two faint pink stains on the salwaar. I take a closer look… Yes, they are definitely stains and I don’t remember noticing them before.
“There is a stain here, and here,” I say to the drycleaner, pointing out the two stains.
He leans forward, examines the salwaar, then straightens up again and announces:
“No, Madam! No stain!”
Is he blind or am I going mad? I look down at the salwaar and point out the stains again.
“Here. Look. These are stains!” I repeat, my voice rising in irritation.
“No, not stain,” he answers again. “Colour.”
Is he playing around with me?
“Yes, colour!” I repeat, exasperated. “A coloured stain! Which wasn’t there before!”
“No, Madam!” he says coolly. Not stain.”
The manager hears the commotion and comes to have a look. I point out the stains and explain that they weren’t there when I had left the costume a week ago.
“No problem, Madam. We will try to remove the stains,” he reassures me. “Come back in three day’s time.” I start to relax… “But kindly pay first,” he adds.
He must be joking! I leave my costume to be dry-cleaned, it gets stained in the process and now he expects me to pay for it?!
“I’m not paying one paisa until you get the stains out,” I tell him firmly.
He doesn’t look at me but wobbles his head in that Indian head gesture which means ‘OK, fine’.
When I go back three days later, I don’t feel optimistic. Sure enough, the stains are still there.
“Not stain. Colour, Madam,” the assistant repeats again.
I try to remain calm and ask to speak to the manager.
I’ve learnt that playing the sentimentality card often works in India.
“This is my very first dance costume,” I explain to the manager, “and it’s stained… If it was just a plain, everyday salwaar it would not be a problem. But it’s my dance costume! How will it look on stage? This is tussar silk! The sari the costume is made with cost me 1500 rupees!”
My tirade seems to be working… the manager is looking shamefaced and thoughtful.
“OK Madam, I’ll give you a discount,” he announces.
“A discount?!” I reply, outraged. “But the costume is ruined!”
“But Madam, I have cleaned it twice!”
We eventually settle on half the price.
When I get home I examine the stains again. I suddenly get a thought: what if I had stained the costume with the bright red alta (which dancers put on their fingertips and palms) and didn’t notice? After all the fuss I made at the drycleaner’s, I feel horrified!