By Andrew Goldstein
Point Park News Service
Inside the Indian boutique, Shingar, the eyes are besieged by a myriad of colors extending beyond the rainbow from the clothing racks packed with saris, sherwanis and kurtas, and glass cases filled with bangles, bindis and other traditional Indian jewelry.
The heavy smell of incense permeates every corner of the store and swathes anyone with the pungent aroma of sandalwood.
There is also the gentle sound of meditation music played by string instruments creating a calm vibe that has a relaxing effect on the patrons.
Shingar, located at 4141 Old William Penn Highway, Monroeville, is run by Romi Singh, a native of India. Shingar gets customers from all over the region because it is the only store of its kind. It houses the largest selection of authentic Indian clothing and Bollywood movies in the Pittsburgh area.
“The items will be from all over India. Even some of the items will be from Kashmir,” Singh said.
Many people make a stop at Shingar after going to the Hindu SV Temple up the road. Singh said that he has many regular customers in the area and that he also gets patrons from outside of the state.
Singh came to the United States in 1988, looking for a better opportunity. He settled in Pittsburgh because his cousin was living in the area. Singh opened Shingar nine years ago because he owned the same type of store when he lived in India. Singh said that Shingar means anything that a woman can use to make herself more beautiful. When Singh was contemplating opening the store, he had been spending half of the year in India, and the other half in the United States. He was hesitant to start the business since he would be tied down and unable to travel to India as frequently. But Singh made his decision with some advice from an unexpected place.
“One day I was eating at a Thai place, and you know how they give you fortune cookies. And I opened the fortune cookie and the fortune cookie said ‘If you really want something, this is the time to do it. Don’t wait.’ I thought it was a message for me. That’s how I started,” Singh said with a laugh.
Singh orders all of his merchandise through his brother in New Delhi, India. Singh returns to India often to visit his family and find items for the store. Shingar carries traditional Indian clothing such as saris, long pieces of cloth that are wrapped around the body. Saris are a quintessential fashion for Indian women, and Singh said that they can sell for as much as $1,000 but in his store the prices range from $75 to $250.
Shingar also has clothes for men called sherwani, a formal type of apparel that is button-down and collared and looks similar to a light coat. They also have kurtas which are long-sleeved, loose fitting shirts made of cotton. Sherwanis can go from $75 to 175. Kurtas are about $25.
Clothing of every hue imaginable is sold in the store. Tailoring services are available for customizing all styles of apparel.
Shingar also carries a great deal of traditional Indian jewelry. There are necklaces in different shapes such as rectangles and diamonds. There are even some in the shape of small peacocks that have jeweled feathers. Necklaces range from $25 to $40. The store also sells special bracelets called bangles that are decorated with beads and stones. The bangles are a customer favorite and are also sold from $25 to $40.
“My favorite part of the store is the jewelry, especially the bangles. I love it,” said Sameera Frickel, a regular customer at Shingar.
The store also sells bindis, a small jewel that can be glued in the middle of the eyebrows. Bindis are worn by Indian women as a fashion trend.
“I think Madonna made it famous, she put [a bindi] on her album, on her forehead,” Singh said.
Another special item that Shingar carries is japa bead necklaces. Japa beads are special because it was said that Shiva, a Hindu god, once meditated for a very long time and when he opened his eyes, a tear dropped on the Earth. From that tear a rudarakash tree grew, the tree which japa beads come from. It is said that japa beads have special healing powers.
“I think the only power from japa beads is to get peacefulness,” Singh said. “I believe when your body is calm and your mind is calm your body functions much better.”
Japa beads start at $20 but depending on what they are made from they may become more expensive.
From Bollywood to Our Backyard
Shingar holds a collection of around 500 Bollywood movies, which are the largest assortment in the region. Bollywood was the nickname given to the Indian film industry that is centered in Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay. Singh said that India is the leading country in the world when it comes to film production and that there are five or six Bollywood films released every week. Just like Hollywood, they have famous actors, such as Anil Kapoor, and renowned directors, like Guru Dutt. Bollywood movies go from $10 to $30 in the store.
“The Bollywood movies are very family based actually,” Singh said. “They show more [family] relationships and things like that. Every movie has to have six or seven songs, it doesn’t work without songs.”
The store also sells detailed paintings of Hindu gods and goddesses. There is a painting of Durga, goddess of strength wearing a crown, and riding a tiger while holding a curved sword among other things with her eight arms that goes for $35. Another painting depicts Saraswati goddess of knowledge and music, holding a veena, a sitar-like instrument, accompanied by a peacock to her right, which is also $35. These are just a few of the paintings that are meticulously imbedded with Hindu symbols. Prices on the paintings vary depending on size.
Romi the Yogi
Although Shingar sells countless goods unique in the area, from Hindi artwork, to authentic Indian clothing, to Bollywood videos, the man behind the counter makes a visit to the store memorable for customers.
“Do I have a favorite part of the store? Romi of course. He’s just an awesome business person,” said Fathima Clothey, another regular Shingar shopper. She said that Singh had made her a custom two-piece outfit for her birthday consisting of a tan bottom and top with a scarf that she really liked.
While Singh’s shop is filled wall to wall during store hours, there are times when the shop is transformed into a space where he can teach yoga. Singh has practiced yoga for over 30 years, but he has recently taken on the venture of teaching.
“My dream [is to teach] yoga. I want to teach yoga and Tai Chi. That’s what I want to share with people,” he said.
Singh hasn’t been teaching publicly for that long but already has a small following. He teaches in his shop and will also go to people’s homes if they want private lessons. Group classes start at $20 and private lessons start at $50. There are also packages of classes available. Singh can be reached at 412-853-0752 for more information.
“I think if they’re not lying, most of [my students] loved it,” Singh said about his lessons.
Singh doesn’t have plans for expansion of the store. In fact he said that eventually he wants to open up a school to teach yoga and Tai Chi. When he is able to do that, he will leave Shingar in the hands of his wife so he can focus solely on teaching.
“They say a yogi should be able to control his senses like a turtle gets inside its shell,” Singh said.
For now, Singh’s senses will be busy with the sights, smells and sounds inside his store.