Finding Love in an Indian Carpet Shop

I’ve been forthcoming about my love of traveling, my love of writing and teaching, my love for sampling fresh vegan food from all over the world, and about my unholy obsession with durian, but now it’s time to introduce you to a love affair which I often neglect and rarely indulge—my passion for textiles.
Beirut 020
Kaftans in Beirut
It seems right to blame my father for this, after all, he gets the blame for so little. (Which is only fair; he is a peerless and wise soul.) But I really think I can trace my textile crush back to my first time in India, when, as a curious and slightly awkward sixteen-year-old, I followed him into a reputable carpet shop where we sat in small plastic chairs drinking warm chai and cold pepsi as the carpet sellers rolled out glistening silk carpets, layer upon layer, at our feet. My dad bent down to examine the individual threads. I too crouched on my knees and, in youthful exuberance, eyeballed the carpet so closely my nose pressed against its shimmering surface. He turned over a corner to look at the underside and check the knot count. I followed his lead, wrinkling my forehead and squinting at the carpet through one eye. When he remarked on the fineness of the design, I would nod my head in agreement. He taught me to look for little flaws and asymmetry and to cherish them—they are the mark of a handmade carpet. And when he showed me the difference between a pure silk, silk/wool blend, and wool carpet, I focused intently. (Hint: silk shines and lays flat; wool is fluffy and opaque and stands on end.)

I remember spending hours in that shop as two salesmen unfurled carpet after carpet, each one a jewel of brilliant colors, intricate designs, and breathtaking workmanship. The animation of carpets before me, like stills whirring in a film reel, mesmerized me and the way the salesmen handled the rugs—roughly, familiarly—was shocking to me. The carpets were works of art, so vibrant with color and life; surely they deserved more respect. Another revelation came to me when I stood up and tiptoed toward a deep-red carpet accented with a pale blue tree-of-life design.
“You can walk on it,” the salesman urged me.
“What? But it’s so beautiful!”
“It is a carpet,” he laughed. “It is made to be walking on.”

I felt foolish, but of course he was right. A good carpet would outlast its owner and would continue to look beautiful in old age. I slipped out of my sandals and plodded slowly from tassled end to tassled end. I could feel the silk underfoot. How smooth and flat the threads lay! The pile lay so flat in fact that the carpet appeared different from each end. Peering with the lay of the silk, I saw a lustrous, almost shining pastel coral and baby blue pattern. From the other end, looking against the lay of the tufted silk, that same carpet was darkly luminous, filled with blood red and deep azure.
We spent hours in the shop and didn’t buy a single thing. Though my father wanted to buy a carpet, and this was the first time I’d ever seen him enthusiastic about shopping, he refused to settle for a carpet he didn’t absolutely love. I was simply thrilled that he wanted to buy anything at all because my father has a pretty strict anti-clutter rule, and used to make me give or throw away something every time I wanted to buy anything new. As a fashion-obsessed teen, this drove me crazy. As a lightweight traveler now, I am grateful for his training.

Streets and shops of India
The next day, in a different carpet shop, we went through the same routine. But this time, somewhere in the layers of unfurled carpets draped before us, my dad found love; he found the carpet he had been waiting for.
In those two days and in those carpet shops, I too found love. Though I didn’t just find it in that pancake stack of jewel-toned carpets. I found love in the careful knotting of thread, in each hand-cut tuft of silk, in the delicate flora of the designs, and in the purity and exuberance of the colors. I found love in textiles.


  1. a very special tribute to dad. you have great talent and love and are appreciated and adored.

  2. This post was amazing. Who knew carpets could be so interesting?! I LOVE the center one and hope they're able to find it once you're ready to purchase.