Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Of darzis and the mohalla

Last week, for the first time since I arrived here, I saw why Bombayiites insist that Delhi is a small town gone crazy.

Never in Bombay, for instance, would a neighbourhood darzi (tailor) take the liberty of slapping my shoulder hard, lightly clouting me on the head and scolding, “You talk too much, girl!”

Yes, yes, such things still happen in Delhi.

Master-saab of Islam Master Tailors seems to have decided that, by virtue of having measured me, made me two kurtas, ruined one of them and lightened my purse by some six hundred rupees, he has acquired the right to treat me like a naughty niece, who might have played on his knee when she was in diapers.

The thing is, whenever he sees me, I am busy chatting on the phone. Anywhere else, he'd wait for me to finish my (rather long) conversation, like all polite, mind-their-own-business clothing-professionals in big cities.

But not Islam Master-Tailor’s master-saab.

He took the liberty of whacking the back of my head and scolding me for being glued to the phone like it were a lifesaver. Not once, not twice, but three times.

Then he took the liberty of asking me who I was, who my father was, where we belonged, where that town was, why I didn’t live there, why I lived away from the family and ‘Oh, that explains why you’re always on the phone, poor thing!’

This gentleman is an old guy with a big white beard, white cap, Aligarhi pajamas (the very loose kind that hover a safe six inches above the feet).

He is the ‘tailor-master’, as opposed to mere tailor; master-saabs in north India are the guys who cut your cloth, and thereby wield tremendous power: The power of the scissors over cloth – will it flatter, will it cling, or will it be destroyed beyond redemption?

The master-saabs are also the ones who decide if you will get your new dress on time for the party, or not, whether your blouse gets precedence over that of Mrs Khanna during the Diwali rush-season or not.

Right now, instead of being offended, I find myself getting wistful, and entirely forgiving him for ruining the blue-n-white kurta, blaming myself for insisting on a western-Indian fusion design that he’d probably never seen before.


My other darzi – a much younger man who will stitch a plain kurta for a blessed Rs 70, but needs the assistance of a sample fit, most likely - is a prude. I don’t know his name yet, so I just refer to him as the padosi-prude darzi.

[He reminds me of my tailor-master from the hostel-era. He would cut a perfect fit but would always pretend to forget the measurements for necklines and hemlines. Despite my telling him I wanted eight inches of neckline, he’d never allow me more than six-and-a-half inches of bare neck, until I kept sending it back for alterations...

And then there was my friend G’s old tailor in Allahabad, who would stand a respectful three feet away while measuring her, and would not press the inch-tape close to her well-endowed bosom, never allowing his hands to touch her. As a result, all her kurtas would hang loose round the bust.]


As for my padosi-prude darzi, he ably converted a pink saree into a salwar-kurta, but it was handed to me with an admonishment – “You didn’t get a slip attached to this one?”

I mumbled, “er… not needed.”

Very sternly, he told me, “This is very transparent. You need a slip.”

I sighed, “I’ve got one at home. I’ll wear that.”

“Hmm. Please do. You can’t wear this without a slip.”

I meekly nooded, “Of course” and fled, praying that when I did put on that kurta, he’s not keeping an eye out to check for the non-existent slip.

Now, I think of how much I miss that female darzi in Munirka.

True, she never slapped my shoulder, scolded me or told me to wear slips. All she did was giggle hysterically when she realized that she’d ruined a silken shirt. She ironed the ensuing mess, in front of my own eyes, handed it back to me, and asked for eighty rupees for the favour.


Now, this is the sort of stuff that cannot happen with boutiques, with small-time fashion designers, with high-end tailors in higher-end suburbs. Not even with the elite darzis of yore, who served the nawabzadis. They were always polite, always careful not to give offence.

This is the sort of stuff that defines our small towns; the mohalla that gives you the overbearing, familiar tailor who treats you like he's got some rights over you. It gives you your darzi.

And I have learnt to love the darzi.

7 comments:

neha vish said...

:) That really charged up the Delhi memories bit in the head today. I lived in South Delhi for most of my life, so chances are I bumped into the darzi in Munirka.

I have grown to love both cities - Bombay and Delhi. Even though I spent just about three years in Bombay, but the love for each grows when we stop comparing the two. They are the kebabs of their own respective pasts and people..

Anonymous said...

that was delightful, Annie. I could see why you love the darzi:) Just delightful:)

Pawan said...

oh, the last comment was mine.

Suhail said...

Auto-maton and now this darzi. Beautiful! However you shd know, the 'master' nomenclature is still in use in Bombay's middle class and even uppermiddle class societies. A tailor in my neighborhood in Bbay, whose name probably starts with 'K', has a very witty signboard: "Tailor K Master" :D

And to this day, they still yield the same power. My family tailor, used to admonish me (like a good uncle) when I was a kid, that if I didn't offer my prayers properly, he wouldn't put kali to my kaliwala kurta for Eid. Once, he purposely held back my kurta(even tho it was ready), till the last night before Eid. I was waiting outside his shop from 12 till 3am in night, and then he suddenly appears with kurta in one hand, and kebabs in another as some sort of kid's compensation. He also added two extra buttons on my shirt that year. Nice..v.nice master. To this day, he keeps in touch with me..even though I hardly get anything done from him these days..Maybe sometime I shd, for old time's sake. Totally nostalgic post, this one, thanks.

annie said...

neha, me too
pawan, thanks
and suhail, apologies... have not grown up in bombay so there's plenty I don't know about the city. Also, must confess that my tailoring experiences there were limited and unpleasant. Will post another time, maybe

Suhail said...

na baba naa..what apologies and all. Was just adding to your post.

david raphael israel said...

Annie,
such verve in expression, and such interesting observations, nuances, and quick hints sketching a picture of social contexts.
Growing up in a so-called affluent society here (USA), I've no affordable tailer of the sort you rely on. (In many respects the details & fine channels of our human infrascture would seem to be paradoxically "more empoverished".)

Such writing as you're doing could easily interest an international audience (for instance both the Darzis & Auto-maton narratives). At most, a few notes (small lexicon at back of the book say) would suffice to clear up questions for those not versed in Indian life & languages. On the whole, you write with enough sense of "distance" and "inherent contextualizing" as to render the observations of daily experience both clear and fascinating.
Looking forward to enjoying more.
bests, d.i.

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