One of the acts of civil disobedience he encouraged was boycotting British-loomed cotton. Gandhi noticed that India was producing a lot of cotton. However, that raw cotton was being shipped to Europe where the clothing mills of Northern England would turn it into thread and then into garments, which were in turn shipped back to India and sold to Indians at a much higher price.
Wouldn't it be better, he thought, for Indians to be self-sufficient in clothing themselves?
Gandhi himself made an effort to spin cotton yarn every day, and adamantly wore only the traditional Indian dhoti (worn like a sarong or loincloth) and shawls spun out of local materials. And, he bought the first of his Indian-spun, Indian-made dhoti's in Tamil Nadu's Madurai.
Tamils seem proud of this connection to the Mahatma, and most men we saw on the street were also wearing dhotis. We visited the Gandhi Memorial Museum in Madurai, where the centerpiece of the museum is, in fact, the blood-stained dhoti Gandhi was wearing when he was assassinated in 1948.
Now, we were expecting to see a lot of sites connected with Gandhi, but clothing shops? Well, why not.
Encouraged by this, Dan and I decided our wardrobes were in need of an overhaul and decided to patronize Indian cotton as well.
First, we had to shop around for some fabric. The streets around Madurai's Sri Meenakshi Temple are clothing central. One of the gates leading up to the temple is a mini bazaar lined with sweating men churning cloth through their Singer sewing machines. Dan got some shirt fabric at a place also selling ready made clothes, and some pants fabric at a booth in the bazaar. Later, we found a tailor specializing in men's clothes. But finding something for me wasn't as easy.
Most stores we looked at carried saris. Now, saris are beautiful, but I don't really think they go with my backpack. Plus, the idea of having to wash five or six meters of cloth every time it got dirty doesn't appeal to me. What I was looking for was a salwar kameez. This is a three-piece garment, consisting of a knee-length-ish top, loose drawstring pants (I see some teenagers wearing skinny leggings under theirs—the latest fashion?) and a long, sheer scarf called a dupatta which is worn looped over the shoulders with the ends trailing down the back. We looked through several stores trying to find a salwar kameez that didn't come encrusted with fake gems, studded with round mirrors or scaled with sequins but had no luck.
Finally, we learned that a lot of salwar kameez aren't bought at the store. Instead, you go look at patterns in a shop, pick out fabric which suits the pattern you like (or vice versa) and go have it stitched up to your dimensions. After all my experiences shopping for clothes in China (What? You mean I'm XXXXL again? Last week it was only triple-X!), it was novel to go in, pick out clothes and not have to worry about the size. Later, I did buy a ready-made salwar kameez. It was cheaper, but the tailored one is definitely superior.
Shopped out, we picked up Dan's clothes at the tailor and took the train as far south as we could, to Kanniyakumari.
**Click here to see photos of Madurai!**