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..........