Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Tailor's tale..........कुणाचा देश कुणाचें माप ......

Tailors have been an integral part of every Indian life, particularly , if you inhabit the middle classes.

With the advent of globalization (how I am fed up of that word), India was swamped by Malls. The young buying public thronged at the ready-to-wear places, oohing and aahing over various types of jeans, and displayed , in this process, as amazing capacity for being fooled. There is just so much a company can do with two legs, a waist, and several different shapes and numbers of pockets. But see these with fancy labels, (possibly printed in USA , otherwise known to many as Ulhasnagar Sindhi Association), in a store with "minimalistic" decor , blue walls, and anorexic saleswomen urging you to try a "relaxed fit" branded pair-of-jeans, and you feel like laughing at the young woman who is telling her friend , on her Rs 27,000 latest camera phone, about these real cool jeans she is getting so cheap, for Rs 2000. Only.

If you are also on the wrong side of middle age in addition to being middle class, its time to think back to what are, obviously, the middle ages. ....

In my childhood, every family , along with a milkman, a daily vegetable vendor, a newspaper delivery person, daily household help, routine bicycle repairer, flower vendor for pooja(prayers and worship), trusted old jeweller (for special occasions), etc, also had one or more family tailor. Mostly , there were different tailors for men and women, and my mother was known to have been fairly successful at convincing a " men's" tailor to stitch night pajamas for my brother and me, when we were children ( and didnt have much of a say). Whats more , the tailor came home to take your measurements, amidst folks urging you to "stand straight', "yes, make it a bit longer", and other assorted pieces of advice. Girls had much more fun than boys, simply because of the larger variety of outfits they had. In those days, we secretly admired our Anglo-Indian teachers in our English medium schools, who wore frocks and "tight" (read straight) skirts, and kind of gave up in despair over the parental insistence on "decent" flared and gathered skirts, well below the knees, always with pockets for some reason; occasionally, frills in unusual places, caused a bit of an alarm.

Today, no tailors have the time or inclination to come home and do business. A typical tailor's shop will have several chaps sitting at sewing machines, industriously converting yardage into wearable items, There is always , what can be called a "managing tailor".H e is the guy who stands behind the main table out in front, a metre tape around his neck, a marking chalk in one hand, and a big pair of scissors in another. Around him are strewn various catalogues displaying beautiful, and sometimes, not so beautiful women in a variety of Indian outfits, some regional, some common to the whole country. There is usually a gaggle of young girls turning these pages, and trying to choose some outrageous cut or neckline (now that their mother is not accompanying them). They tell the tailor what they want, he advises on sufficiency of cloth, prospective drape of the cloth , his relative making charges, and measurements are taken, a receipt given , promising the finished piece on a certain day. The young girls walk out with stars in their eyes.

Wasimbhai was someone who started out with a small shop in our neighbourhood. One of his relatives, also a tailor, emigrated to the Middle East, and he took over the shop. He obviously had some family resources, because he was soon able to get larger premises where he also started stocking material from which you could choose. A whole bunch of clients of the old tailor started going to Wasimbhai.

All kinds of folks came to him. Ladies in chiffon, whose drivers double parked as they glided into his shop , a gaggle of college friends urging their conservative friend to try a bolder fashion, middle aged types to whom the biggest thrill was replacing a round neck with a V-neck, and even my local vegetable vendor lady who wanted her daughter to have some "fancy" clothes in the "wedding trousseau". Everyone who communicated and conversed with Wasimbhai about their stuff, got individualized attention, including escalation or downsizing of fees as and how he thought fit.

Wasimbhai is s devout Moslem. If you ever go to his shop at midday on a Friday, you never see him. He always goes for the Friday prayers at the nearby mosque at noon, leaving his shop in the care of his assistants. He fasts during the holy month of Ramzaan. He has introduced a second floor above his shop, where the real nitty gritty work is done, with some guys going full blast on their sewing machines, while some younger types, sit cross-legged on the floor, surrounded by items that need careful hand stitching.

What is unusual is that Wasimbhai has now introduced two of his nieces into the shop. His clientele is completely female, and while he alone is in charge of taking measurements , and accepting orders from customers, it so happens that while trying out a stitched item, occasionally a lady may be tongue tied explaining the problem to , say, a man. Here is where his nieces are a godsend. They sort of hover respectfully around the shop, mostly in awe of their strict uncle, helping customers, showing new materials , discussing the fit with finicky customers and translating the cribs to their uncle, Wasimbhai.

I have seen him give the same detailed attention, if not more, to a housemaid, getting festival clothes stitched for her daughter from her hard-earned savings, as to a society matron who arrives in a whiff of perfume, and a minion carrying a bag with 5 yardage pieces ready to be stitched . The interesting thing is his study of what constitutes decency in fashion as a function of economic strata. Thanks to Indian movies , and the sometimes disastrous fashions that become popular, he is often faced with young girls insisting on deep cuts and fashions that indicate the non existence,, say, of a back. Some mothers, who never went to school ever, and now have college going daughters, cannot counter with anything when the daughters insist that this is how the things are today. This is when , Wasimbhai notices the troubled mother, and looking down at the cloth, he will measure this way and that, and casually say that the existing material doesn't allow for such and such cut. The girls actually listen. And the mothers are grateful. With the chiffon set, the mothers themselves suggest outrageous fashions, based on the milieu in which they move. Its a totally different ball game, and Wasimbhai simply listens to them and keeps his opinions to himself.

There are some older women who are so young in mind, they actually confuse it with body, and so blinded are they by the ladies giving poses in catalogues, that they insist on outrageous fashions , regardless of their size. I have observed Wasimbhai, handle this too, bringing up other catalogues, to show other patterns, and praising some, to draw attention away, from what he thinks is a disastrous choice.

The only people he indulges are little girls. They always want flares,frills and bows, and he talks to them seriously while taking measurements. I once came up with some measurements by email , to stitch a surprise traditional outfit for my niece in the US, and he spent considerable time planning the whole thing, thinking about making the thing expandable in view of a growing age, suggested attaching some intricate embroidered borders and so on.

What was really interesting was when we had a visitor from Israel and he was accompanied by his wife. They were a bit older to us, being in their late and middle sixties. While the gentleman busied himself with his professional discussions, I was in charge of showing the lady around. We did the usual Mumbai sightseeing stuff, and she was enthused about Indian clothes and wanted to get things made.

I ride a two wheeler most of the time, and since it is more useful on the roads where the tailor shop was, I took her , riding pillion on my vehicle.

While she was absolutely delighted with this unexpected turn of , should I say , the gearbox, most of Wasimbhai's upstairs staff was stunned, as they gathered at a window, to see a golden haired elderly lady arriving , riding pillion behind one of their most square and conservative clients.

Typical of the tailor, he let us wander around his shop looking at and selecting materials, while he attended other folks who were already there, and were a bit apprehensive of our arrival creating a delay. My guest wanted a couple of Indian outfits and one western pant suit stitched. A lot of rifling through fashion catalogues, selecting and deselecting stuff , we finally finalised her choices, and she submitted to being measured for the outfits, instructing me in middle eastern accented English, on stuff to be conveyed to Wasimbahi.

This was all happening at 11 am.

He asked me when we wanted the outfits. Asked us to call by 5 pm the same day and check with him if the were ready. (Maybe he had done this for other folks before and noticed that these were short-term visitors)

My guest was absolutely dumbstruck. I was absolutely thunderstruck myself by the fact that he didn't charge her anything extra for the superfast service, than he would have charged anyone else, like the chiffoned and perfumed ladies. My guest again insisted on doing the two wheeler thing on our way to collect the items in the evening. Given the complete chaos on the roads outisde our campus, this must have been a not so pleasant experience, but the thrill of getting her made to order outfits was too much.

The outfits were duly collected, carefully packed in bags announcing the shop's name in bright red, with address/phone numbers etc. We turned to go, with some decent work accomplished, with me thinking about whether the lady sitting behind would be able to manage the packages as I dodged the unruly traffic while crossing on my two wheeler, when she turned around, waived her hand at Wasimbhai, and said "Khuda Hafiz !"......

He took a moment to recover. Couldn't believe what he heard. Then amidst smiles from his nieces and assorted customers watching all this drama, he respectfully wished her "Khuda Hafiz".

He didn't know she was from Israel, and was culturally attuned to the middle eastern ethos. She had heard him talking to his assistants and nieces, and probably surmised that he was a Moslem.

I didn't bother to clarify anything to anyone. When there was so much to unite all, why bring in something to divide?

It was just two civilized folks being very grateful to each other, he for giving him her business, and she , for his wonderful work in making the stuff available to her so fast.

Wasimbhai sometimes talks about this , on some of my occasional visits to his shop on, maybe, slack days, when he is a bit more free. About the Khuda Hafiz lady.

She has been telling all her friends worldwide about her most memorable event in India....the sensational two wheeler ride through chaotic traffic, and custom clothes made for her in India.

If only folks were so understanding across the world, it would be a such a better place..........


  1. You write so beautifully. I am learning about your culture.
    Thank you for your comment on my journal. Yes, One Woman is rich in memories. Happy memories and memories of where I was alone and starting over. I almost could not go on with life physically or financialy. Children grew up and now grandchildren. As I look back through the years I have become aware of my talent of creating homes and gardens. Guess that became my profession. Every penny watched. I started writing my journal in March and the words flow. When I read my words I realize that my life has been a blessing. Thank you again new friend that lives far far away.

  2. Hehe reminded me of Pu. la deshpande where in one of his books he describes his visit to the tailor or should I say tailor's visit to his house . All the kids (boys) would get khakis(which are so trendy now a days) and a long shirt.. so long that if the kid didn't have the khaki it would be ok. heehee.

    Reminded me of "Priyanka tailor" near Naagnaath Paar in pune who would refused to cut low necklines saying simply.."changla nahi disnar"

    2000 for jeans???? baapre

    Malls are eating up all the local small businesses. But never thought that the tailors would be vanishing from the indian scene too. After the big grocery stores started popping up like mushrooms every where " Vaanyache dukaan" started disappearing and now tailors too?


  3. One Woman's journey Thank you.

    Vinita Thankfully, tailors in India are still in demand, and some things will never be available at Malls; eg saree blouses. Folks have tried to market ready made ones, but I dont think they are very successful.

    And yes, people do pay 2000 rs for jeans. And more, if its a shop in a posh locality, with everyone speaking what you and I might call, faad-faad english.....

    Must check out Priyanka tailors next time I am in Pune. Nagnath paar( actually there is no paar now), and its environs are areas I pass through very often going from Tilak Rd to Laxmi rd...

    "Vanyacha dukan " might slowly disappear, but I think tailors are here to stay.

  4. Enjoyed reading this post too. Now I feel that ugich Konitari always writes Khas Kahitari!

    I am reminded of an unrelated story, an actual incident, to be precise. Malishka, that DJ on FM radi,o asked one of the listeners [who had dialed in] what he would like to be if he were to start his career afresh. 'Ladies Tailor' was the answer. The listener who had dialed in did not realise that many of us [his colleagues in office] heard him on car FM radio and it became a great topic of discussion and leg pulling that day!

  5. Heheh I guess wanting to be a ladies' tailor is every man's dream job.

    Oh yeah saree blouses have to be "tailor made".

    If Mall saunskruti has taken over so much what will happen when wal-mart enters the scene?

    Faad Faad english.. hehe agadi agadi... (tell me no type)LoL

  6. That was a wonderful post. Love to find out about your culture and life there in India.

    It reminded me of my mother. She used to make all our clothes as children. Everything. Even all our toys.

    Then of course we got malls and snooty department stores too.

    A lot of our clothes are not made in China.

    Strangely my daughter has recently gone to a tailor to have some clothes made - suits for work. They are just beautiful and so well made. I really respect craftsmen and women.

    We are also going to Thailand in the next month and she intends to seek out a tailor there to get some clothes made.

    I don't know if the economic times keep going the way they are then more and more people may go back to the basics and try sewing their own clothes again.

    The thing that I am amazed about in terms of tailors is how quickly they can turnaround the garments. Amazing.

    I love hearing about other cultures because I think we are all more alike than not. And you are right if folks were more understanding across the world the world would be a better place.

    By the way you write in such a way that I feel you could be just a moment away and not thousands of miles.

    The Aussies are all crying in their beers over the cricket and I guess you are celebrating! Truly wonderful result!

    And yes, I do like writing detailed responses to comments - not sure why except its what I do. Probably abnormal but its too late to try and walk the normal line now. Have a great rest of the week!!

    Thank you!

  7. I always love your stories and I love learning more about your culture. And they do so reflect my own thoughts and sentiments in so many ways. I'm sick of malls and have been for years, but it's a little hard to find any other places when you need to shop. Here in the area here in Seattle where I live, it looks a little more like a 50s town, with small stores and shops. You do have to drive a ways to find an acutal mall and I do enjoy that. Thank you for keeping up with me and the blog problems, things are smoothing out pretty well now -- I'm just still a little jittery, hoping it won't happen again!

  8. Vivek Thank you for the kind words.

    I've always looked upon in disapproval on guys travelling in air conditioned cars, with either a cell phone glued to their ears, or acting as if they are talking to themselves (on hands free). Now I know who they are talking to. FM & Ladies Tailor indeed.

    No wonder the economy is in doldrums :-)

    Vinita Actually, I think I speak fairly good "faad faad" English myself. But I have always felt all these shopping places that act so posh, are basically out to make you pay for their airconditioning/decor/uniformed doorman , and sales people who do not know their tables, and need to constantly use calculators....

    And by the way, I think when and if Walmart gets here, you will see it in an Indian avatar, a bit like whats happened at McD.

    Liily Thank you for the great comments. And how exciting that you will be going to Thailand. Maybe the next time you can push a bit more westwards and come to Mumbai. And get your stuff stitched here....I too am amazed at how these tailors schedule their work, and satisfy everyone's "urgent" requests. Thats because they didnt go to any B-school :-)

    And yes, folks are going ballistic over the cricket win. There is a huge break of 8 days for Divali , and they seem to be using it to write stuff on poor Brett Lee who has had a bad game.

    Please. Its just a game. But who is listening. India just sent its first unmanned spacecraft to the moon, and all people here can talk about is 320 runs ?

    Maybe its time to write a mean looking cricket post.....

    (And let me know when you come to Mumbai :-)

    Sylvia K Thank you for your comments. At the end of the day, we are all so similar in thinking , although we are all so different , say, in geography!

    And I sure am glad that the blog problems have been solved.....I got so many messages and mails about your new blog address, I was absolutely impressed!

  9. Dear Madam,

    Absolutely brilliant post. It reads like a short story with a moral thrown in. I still maintain my belief that you should become a writer.

    Ms. Vinita's reply to this post made me remember of all those short stories by the great Pu. La and Va. Pu. Though I have never read them, I have listened to them on cassette in their own inimitable voices. I believe you have that kind of gift hidden somewhere in you which is slowly coming over a number of postings.

    I am talking about that gift where one tends to observe a very normal episode in a day and take some learning out of it. Where a normal person would forget that episode in a short time as a daily occurrence some people like you take some sort of learning out of it.

    I believe I may not have conveyed in words what I feel but I have a belief that you will get the point.

  10. Your post brought back lovely memories of childhood where my mom would "design" my dresses and then take me to the tailor and get it stitched...Somehow after all the custom-designed, custom-tailored outfits, I never took to readymade stuff...To this day, I feel most comfortable in darji-made clothes. Thanks for the beautiful post!!

  11. And you can be sure that you'll hear from me whenever I'm in Mumbai. You can send whatever you want to UCB thru me as long as I get a commission!!;-)

  12. what a well written post...i actually could visualize everything you wrote about...and that's a wonderful message you sent across...

    don't we learn a lot from every day life? of being civilized and gracious...

  13. I could actually picture the encounter. Is there a picture of Wasimbhai I can get to see?

    This was a delightful post, and yes, it brought some memories of mine alive. It's been quite some time now since I last got something stitched by a tailor and that was in Goa, years ago.

  14. Ganesh Thank you for the kind words. When one is on the descending part of the (inverted-U) parabola that depicts one's life, one has a new appreciation for things old and simple, and one often finds new things to learn. So I started blogging.

    Thank you for your encouragement and suggestions. Dont know about becoming a writer etc, but I am quite happy blogging. (Should the unexpected happen in the form of a printed book, and publishers clamour for a preface, you can guess whose name will feature prominently :-)

    Incidentally, i honestly think you should start a blog...Happy Diwali.

    Raj,Suma Thank you and Happy Diwali

    Anil P Thank you. Isnt it amazing, so many folks writing here to say they could feel as if everything was actually happening in front of them, and here you aresaying you could visualize stuff too.... I guess if you write from the heart, it is easy for eyes to see. Happy Diwali.

    And no, I dont have a photo of Wasimbhai. Though I wish I had taken one when the Israeli folks visited....

  15. Happy Diwali, Ugich.
    I just love your writing. It's so rich. I can see it, smell it. You make me want to wear purple and gold and eat things with a dozen spices in it. :-)
    Don't you love the internet? I've learned so much already!

  16. I love each and every one of your posts and so enjoy learning and hearing about the way of life there. Since I used to run a small country store, I always try to go to the smaller shops and locally owned stores. These people are the ones that make a shopping experience a good thing instead of the big retail stores and malls.

  17. Memories.. Memories. The whole neighbourhood tailor thing was a run of the mill everyday phenonmenon two decades ago when I left the country. Today, I guess it is different. All I see now are "designer" boutiques with a tailor stuck in the back who only does alterations to said designer outfit.

    The really astounding change I noticed on my last visit to India, a year ago is the complete absence of tailors who stitched sari blouses! They have dissapeared, engulfed by the tsunami of salwaar kameez and "hap'payant" and capris fashion. There was tailors everywhere offering to stitch elaborate evening gowns, trenchcoasts and capri pants and what have you, but nary a sari blouse tailor. Where ever does one get a sari blouse stitched in Pune? The lone tailor who specialises in sari blouses on Ferguesson Road said he was busy for the next 3 months and would not busy himself with my NRI demands... hehehehe. I think he really was busy judging by the line of customer out the door and down the stairs. Or perhaps he just didnt like my fabric selections or my face. Either way... so where is a woman to go in Pune, to get a sari blouse nicely tailored?

    Another Kiran in NYC

  18. Pearl Thanks for the purple and gold comments. I hope you have some Indian friends who you can visit and enjoy the Divali goodies with. In the meanwhile, there are some entries in non-english in my bloglist , which may show up with some pictures of some mouthwatering things... And by the way, so many people commenting on how my writing makes everyone visualize whats happening, am beginning to get a bit alarmed. (Have just sent a crib letter to the police about the road outisde our campus...:-)

    Happy Divali , Pearl.

    JudyThank you. And I didnt know you used to run a small country store.....no wonder you enjoyed Hites(h) and Wasimbhai..

    Another Kiran in NYCIts nice to hear when one of your posts manages to jiggle memories in someones head......And I agree with your take on Fergusson Rd. I think if you cross Lakdi Pool and get into the city side, either side of Laxmi Rd, you will still find tailors to stitch sari blouses. (Else come to Mumbai and I will take you to Wasimbhai.)

    (I went to Fergusson in the late 60's and lived in the college hostel for 4 years. I dont know if you are basically from Pune, but the entire character of that area , in particular, the Fergusson Rd has changed since then. For the worse. The student profile has also drastically changed. (Maybe I will blog about that one day.)

    In the meanwhile, have a great Divali, Thanksgiving, and may Obama win.........(bakichyancha zara jyastach challaye...)

  19. Thank you for your Diwali wishes. May I add my heartfelt wishes to you and your family.

    'He Diwali tumha sarvanna sukache and samruddhi-che aso'.

  20. Hi Suranga, I have had a lovely visit again and a great read of your latest blog. I must say that I love visiting here and really feel that either I have travelled to Mumbai and am sitting listening to you as you speak, or you are sitting at my side while having a comfortable chat in a completely natural way. You have a great gift of making events come alive and I can be assured of a cosy time reading your blog and enjoying a cuppa while you relate things happening in your life.

    Thanks for another lovely visit and may I also wish you a Happy Diwali too..
    Cheers from Scotland, Kate x.

  21. You are really sensitive to the small details, i am learning a lot from your articles.. Seems your heart is in the right place when you write... carry on... loving reading it...

    BTW i still cant buy those 2000 Rs ka cheap jeans.... lol

  22. Lovely post - so descriptive and the narrative flowed like a gentle stream.
    Thank you for giving us a glimpse of life in your part of the world.
    Makes me want to book a trip to India and visit your tailor for my own custom outfit!

  23. As the posts are presented, i cant help but notice the immaculate tailoring, the attention to detail and that Ugich Konitari lives in every warp and weave ! And truly inspiring.

    Perhaps you should consider writing for a larger audience !


    Happy Diwali !!!

  24. I don't know how I lost you because I so enjoy your writing. I think India must be in a melding of cultures and of the attitudes of the elders as opposed to the young. As Walt Disney said, "It's a small world after all."

    If you have a chance, check my blog today because you won the Sarah Palin contest (For what it's worth.) I wish I could send you a beautiful prize for winning, but all I can give you is my thanks for participating.

  25. In the Western world, tailored clothes are such a luxury. It's a pity that people prefer buying clothes from malls these days in India. Living in the US, i really really miss the creativity i could employ in India with designing my salwar suits. One could customize the pattern, the cloth, the color, the design...it's so boring to buy clothes in the US because you get to pick from black, grey, blue or red and you know someone else at work is highly likely to wear the same combo on the very day you wear it to the office!

    Last time i was in India, one of my friends mentioned a tailor whose specialty is stitching jeans....you could pick the denim cloth, the pattern and he would stitch you a perfect pair in a few days. With services like this, i don't understand why people want to buy generic mall clothes.

    I was in India last year for my brother's wedding and i had exactly 2 days in which to buy my sarees and to have the blouses stitched. Our 'family tailor' was given advance notice by my mom about the rushed schedule and he actually got all my blouses stitched in a day so that i could take them with me to Chennai for the wedding. I didn't even know how to thank him.....such generous acts leave me speechless.

  26. So very true Suranga. I think too that your Wasimbhai has learned to tip toe through the intricacies of passing years, as well as the demands of varying cultures. Flexibility, the ability to adapt to change and respect others' attitudes are gifts indeed.

  27. I love this post. It's all about the basics of life, isn't it? Making something, creating it from hand, appreciating the art and time and skill.

    I've wondered if we can get back to the basics on so many levels. Technology is wonderful in many ways (such as making your blog available to so many viewers who appreciate what you write ~ myself included!).

    Yet at the same time, technology leads to mass consumption and away from the basics of skills and relations.

    If we could be back to that basic need, we might appreciate people again on a basic level ~ with humanity.

    I don't have the skill of creating outfits, but Greg's Mom does. In fact, just recently, I purchased a dress for the wedding and Greg's Mom is willing to do the alterations for me. I'm thrilled and I'm so glad that she's the one to do this, because it's someone I know and trust.

  28. harekrishnaji Thank you & happy Divali to you too.

    kateThank you and do feel free to come and join me for a cuppa.....

    Hitch writerThank you.

    Judi Jlo Moran Thank you.

    kavi Thank you. I write as it occurs to me , and its quite amusing to have stuff like "immaculate tailoring", "the attention to detail" and "lives in every warp and weave" applied to me ! Heavy words indeed, and I bend under that weight with gratitude....:-)

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