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     Volume 7 Issue 39 | September 26, 2008 |

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A Roman Column

In Stitches

Neeman Sobhan

Don't expect sartorial satire here or ticklish tales tailored to have you in stitches. This is a sad story. I have just broken up with my tailor in Dhaka. It was a long time coming, and yet I held on like a fool. I overlooked the ruined blouses, turned a blind eye to the fact that he never kept his word on delivery dates, suffered his indifferent stitching stoically, and even swallowed his calling me 'auntie.'

But the other day he refused to take back one of his disasters and re-repair it for Eid. At first I was afraid, I was petrified…then I decided that it was over. As the gentleman from Stratford-on-Avon once said, "The parting was well made." I told Mofijul that I was not coming back again and started for the door. He flung down the measuring tape: “Please auntie, don't be angry… come back” Oh! No! Not I! I will survive! And I walked out. The next moment, I was free, and out in the cold and in the market for a tailor.

All savvy women know that finding a good man is easier than finding a good dorji. I remember the time when tailors were not only dependable but made house calls. I know that this tradition is being resurrected and that many busy women now have over-priced tailors come to their homes. This is fine for fittings but apparently the delivery of goods is only at their mercy. But in this matter, tailors have women under their thumbs anyway.

They know we lie when we say “Bhishon urgent. I need it tomorrow night.” “Impossible.” Tailor says implacably, basking in his moment of power. This is your cue for flattery, flirtation, and flagrant feminine wiles: “Oh! Come on! Please. I know you can do it. If anyone can it's you. Why do you think I chose you above all the tailors in this city….” Pause, while scrawny tailor flowers in his glory. “Earliest possible date is Thursday.” You produce the glimmer of fake tears, “Eeesh! Can't you make it even day after tomorrow?” “Okay, tonight. Eight sharp.” What? Oh!

How he has enjoyed this encounter. We knew he lied, he knew we lied, but these are all extensions of what we call sartorial grace.

The perfect tailor does not exist except in memory. My first tailor was the original Tailor Master of the old school. This was in West Pakistan, he was from Lucknow and always arrived at our house in a Turkish Fez cap and a sherwani. “Assalamalaikum beta!” He greeted us. While he produced a battered copy of a Sear's catalogue of the '50's, and we tried to incorporate some of those musty fashions into the PIA pajamas and mini kameezes of the times, he spoke to us in the purest of Urdu and took detailed notes of fittings that amounted to a medical exam. He produced perfect clothes.

Our next two tailors, in Dhaka, also measured up. One was a talented enthusiast in the Cantonment where I grew up, always adding extra frills to counter my penchant for the simple shalwar kameez. The other one who ended up making my wedding blouses, was a stern and pious man whose name actually was Molla tailor, and he worked from a garage in Dhanmondi. As a shy bride-to-be I gave in to his piously made blouses. Afterwards, when I went to have my first post-marriage blouse made, I asked in faltering tones: “Could you make the back a little lower please?” His tape measure crept a micro inch as he pinned me with a stony gaze. I avoided his eyes and whined “Just a wee bit lower?” I guided his immovable tape with my will while his eyes glazed over into a 'hell awaits you' look. I didn't have the courage to ask for a sleeveless blouse on that trip. For that I waited to have a baby first, and then with toddler in tow I came to Molla brimming with confidence. He knew I was a lost cause, kept his eyes averted and maintained an ominous silence through the fitting. The next year when I returned to Dhaka and went to Molla, I heard that he had left on Hajj. I felt responsible, for it was a most delectable blouse and he had stitched it to sinful perfection. For many years it was the model I flung at tailors all over the world to be copied; in Khan Market Delhi, in Bangkok, even in Rome where Bengali tailors have set up 'Sartoria' shops in the ethnic neighbourhoods.

This period of reproducing my sari blouses from Mollah tailor's model lasted for another decade. Then on one of my trips back to Dhaka, I came with no blouses and went to my usual tailor shop and found my regular dorji not there. I handed the pile of blouse-material to the other tailors asking them to do it according to the pattern my tailor had in the file under my name. They announced to my horror that Hafiz had quarrelled and left this shop for good; and then, while a Munch scream silently imploded in my head, they whispered that before leaving Hafiz had destroyed all his client's patterns. I never found Hafiz again.

When my boys were little and we used to come to Dhaka in the December-January period I would make full use of the trip to get costumes made for the Carnevale festivities in Italy in February. For the price of a ready-made costume in Rome you could get an Armani jacket. So, on one trip, I decided to get my in-law's Purana Paltan dorji from around the corner to devise a Superman costume for my three-year old son. In my mind, I saw it as a practical and ingenious one piece ensemble, requiring no assembling, thus easy to wear. Instead of separate parts like blue leggings, a blue body suit, red briefs and a separate red cape, I conceived of a blue cotton pajama with a long sleeved top attached, complete with the yellow chest-insignia embroidered with an 'S' and a red cape stitched at the shoulder. The crowning glory would be: a fake red brief stitched onto the pajama!

Shofu dorji asked through his pan-stained grin if this was some 'Italian phashion'. I ignored him and explained about the brief. Patiently he said: “Apa (this was pre-'aankel-aunty' period) the aander-wear always goes aander the pajama.” “I know,” I gritted my teeth, my voice rising. “I just want it to look as if the underwear was worn over the pajama.” He shook his head and took a long look at me. I hissed at my eight year old, “For God's sake don't you have a Superman comic I could show him?” Shofu sighed, spitting out his pan juice, “Apa, I can do it, but he will look like a clown.” My eyes lit up, “Exactly my man. This is for a fancy dress.” “Oh! So you want him to dress as a clown. Shong shajbo? Aagey bolben to!” Thankfully my boys didn't follow Dhakaiya or understand the Bangla word 'shong.' And it was the most perfectly designed dress that Clark Kent ever wore for a school Carnevale parade. When my baby walked by proudly, I wished Shofu were there to see that his concoction (Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It's Shong-man!) was better than the over-priced paper version another kid wore. The year after that, Shofu and I had no problem with Batman.

Now, why can't I find a tailor who understands sari blouses? It's not as if I'm asking for a costume for Wonder Woman. Meantime, I am a woman wondering if once the Eid rush is over, I should stitch and make up with my Mofijul dorji? Gloria Gaynor will blacklist me, but as long as there is an unworn sari, I won't survive! And as we all know: a stitch in time saves going to nine other tailors.

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