The first time I came to Kolkata, I was swindled by a little girl who couldn't have been more than six years old. While trying to find a pair of shoes in New Market, this cutie pie grabbed my hand as I was walking, turned her grinning face toward me, and cheerfully said, "Hello! What is your name?" Caught off guard, and a little stupid from lingering jet lag, I said, "My name is Mandy." Her eyes grew wide and she dropped my hand. Holding her hennaed palm to my face she squealed with delight, "Mehndi!"
I laughed and agreed, "That's exactly right: mehndi." I then proceeded to allow this tiny tout to drag me into her father's (so she said) scarf shop where I promptly bought two "pashmina" scarves for what I now know to be triple the actual price, a common skin affliction my partner refers to as a "cracker tax." I knew I was being taken for a ride, but I couldn't bring myself to care. The miniature mehndi charlatan was doing what she had to do to get by, and she was so darn good at it that I felt obliged to play my role as the "dumb American tourist."
Ultimately, it turned out to be a good thing I did because after leaving Kolkata, my partner and I took a fourteen-hour long overnight train to Benares... in the second class sleeper car... in late-December... with nothing more to fight the cold wind that readily seeped in through the cracks than a hoodie and those two scarves. Easily the most miserable fourteen hours I have ever spent, I gained a deep affinity for scarves and swindlers that very long and uncomfortable night.
These days I act on that affinity by scooping up scarves left and right, and my most recent acquisition is from the Dehli-based, woman-owned Masala Tee Collection, whose designer organic cotton t-shirts adorned with Swarovski crystals have already been mentioned in the Indian editions of Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and Marie Claire magazines. Inspired by the feminine beauty of their homeland, the Tee Wallahs (Sheikha Mattar-Jacob and Noelline Besson) founded the company less than a year ago while chatting over (what else) a cup of tea. They design the Masala Tees with screen-printed faces of five women (Divya, Sapna, Pia, Sitara, and Maya), and this fall they have added Skinny Scarves made of organic bamboo fiber into the mix.
Offered in either gray or sage, the Skinny Scarves are 50 x 180cm of gauzy goodness as soft as clouds of kittens. The eco-friendly accessory can be worn in a variety of ways—such as a proper scarf or a head wrap—making it a most versatile simple yet stylish addition to your urban outfit. For every sale made, the Tee Wallahs donate a portion to humanitarian organizations serving women and children in India under the social justice mantra "Masala Tee is for Humani-Tee."
The fashion industry is exploding right now in India, and designers are using the boom to bring both political awareness and casual chic clothing to the country's growing middle class. Though they don't have a web-based store set up just yet, the Masala Tee Collection is sold in boutique stores throughout India—including Ogaan, The Neemrana Shop, The Box, Bombay Electric—and can be purchased through a secure Paypal link by shooting the Tee Wallahs an email. For the dudes out there who think Masala Tee is hot, they're working hard to unveil a men's collection soon.