Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Tailor's Tale

Yesterday a wizened old man twinkled into our house in Delhi.  He had come especially to meet me as I was visiting and had some work for him to do.  I have been seeing him through the years as I was growing up, with a small gap in between when he was suddenly and inexplicably paralyzed.  Fortunately he has recovered completely and seems to be his usual self once more.

He placed his portable sewing machine on the verandah, hitched up his trousers, sat cross legged on the floor and examined the curtain material I handed him.  Then he stood up again and asked me which way I wanted it sewn - which side in front, which side up, with lining or without - he held the material up in different ways - in the light, in the shade, with lining, without, rotated it round - until we had seen all aspects of the cloth and taken a decision.  Then, with great concentration, he began to measure, cut and sew and, during breaks, talk to us about episodes of his life.

Narayan Das was only eight when partition took place.  His father had already died and he was the eldest child in his family.  His family moved from Pakistan to Delhi and lived on the railway platform for several months until they were allotted a house.  He began to work in cloth and upholstery shops as untrained labour at the age of ten - lifting, carrying materials and eventually learnt how to sew.  Shop owners were impressed by his obvious skill and at some point my great uncle discovered him and he got his first official contract to fix upholstery and curtains for a big company.  This was just the beginning of a successful career - to getting many more contracts and requests for tailoring in other companies and in the houses of the rich and famous.  It's rather funny because as he goes from house to house, he conveys regards from one client to the other (the rich and famous clients are probably too busy to call each other personally and he is a convenient conduit).

His children are well settled and he has no financial need to work now.  They keep asking him to stop.  But he won't.  "I work for myself, not for the money," he said.  "I work to be alive."

His day begins early.  At 8.45 he is at the temple, praying.  At 9 he collects his portable sewing machine and sets off in the direction of the next client's house or office and returns only in the evening.  He travels by bus, or at the most by an autorickshaw.

Last evening, after his work was complete and he had shared some samosas and jalebis with us at tea, he was ready to say goodbye and trundle off.  "No money," he shook his head.  "I won't take money from a daughter."  So of course, my father gave him some amount as a goodwill gesture and we bade him farewell.  Until next time.

No comments:

#Header1_headerimg { margin: 0px auto }