That Indian Thing

I know why I love Penang, despite its crazy traffic jams and rude motorists who jump into my lane when I am happily driving along.
The culture.
Where else can you get, side by side to Chinese establishments, little enclaves of Indian shops which seem to have been forgotten by time? In Penang, Little India is vibrant and alive, in more ways than one. The colours are strong, and the air smells of curries and spices and incense sticks.
One of the best ways to sample the culture and its people is to break out of one’s comfort zone and go shopping in Little India. Be it Queen Street, King Street, Bishop Street or Penang Street, there’s always something happening – Indians going about their daily shopping, stopping by a shop for a quick bite and drink, or just strolling about, buying their colourful clothes.
It’s been sometime since Nic and I were at Ramani’s Store. Ramani’s is like any other Indian store but stocked with a variety of stuff – ingredients for curries, stainless steel household wares, cosmetics which I’d never heard or seen before, pickles and chutneys and lots more. The variety is mindboggling, really.
Walking into Ramani’s is like walking into Ali Baba’s cave. For me, there’s a lot to investigate and poke about.
The strange and wondrous cosmetics and toiletries, for one. Did you know there’s Pegaga Soap, Papaya Soap and Cucumber Soap? Also, how about Shikakai powder to reduce itchy scalps? What about some Soap Paper where you tear off a piece, add water and get instant soap for your face? Or Turmeric Facial Wash? Hah, heard of that? Or Body Wash Powder made from grains and mung beans to exfoliate your whole body and make it silky smooth? Or Rose Water. Or oils and unguents to rub into your hair to turn it nice and black.
Getting ready for an Indian wedding? How about henna transfers for your hands? They’ve got that too, if you cannot wait having your hands painted with real henna. Or get real henna for your hair in various shades of black and brown. I remember one mad moment many years ago I wanted to get myself a mehindi. Bought a packet of henna from a mamak shop and tried drawing a mehindi. Never even saw the crimson ink on my skin. Now I realised I didn’t get the formula right. And now I know there’s such a thing as henna transfers which make life much easier too!
How about some 101 smells of the ‘agarbathis’ or incense sticks? Ramani’s sells a huge variety of them, but I got too much of them at one whiff. Nursed a headache after. (But sandalwood is good and so is basil.)
And when you’re done with shopping (like me, browsing endlessly in the little cramped shop), head on over to AnandaBhawan for some mouthwatering banana leaf cuisine. That’s how we ended our shopping spree. The curries were lipsmacking good (black pepper curry chicken and garlic curry chicken) and prices are much more reasonable than Kaliamman’s a couple of doors away.
Short trips like this helps me get out of my comfort zone once in a while and it’s great pretending to be a tourist. Visiting Little India and doing that Indian thing.
I was totally satisfied at having fed my five senses to the max!

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