A Thrift Shop in India


One of my favorite Dorothy Day stories is about the diamond ring a wealthy admirer donated to the Catholic Worker. Everyone in the community was curious to see what Dorothy would do with the ring, and some were dismayed and a bit annoyed when she gave it to an elderly woman who often came to the Worker for meals. When someone pointed out that the ring could have been sold to pay the woman’s rent for almost a year, Dorothy replied mildly that it was up to the woman what she did with the ring: she could sell it and pay her rent, use the money to take a cruise, or even keep the ring just to look at and enjoy. “Do you suppose,” Dorothy asked, “that God created diamonds only for the rich?”

I was reminded of the story recently when my colleagues and I here in India started our latest project, the Rainbow Resale Shop, a second-hand store staffed by young adults with mental and physical disabilities. Thrift shops are widespread and familiar in the United States, but in India they are unheard of. It is interesting to speculate on why this is so.

The most obvious reason is that-until recently-people in India had less to give away. Fashions here took longer to change, and the urge to get rid of what one had, simply to accommodate more of the same, only newer, was discouraged by a culture that traditionally frowned on conspicuous consumption and waste. Another, less flattering reason may have to do with the way...

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About the Author

Jo McGowan, a Commonweal columnist, writes from Deradoon, India.