It was the first day of the working week and I had decided what I should wear. I had ransacked the house and turned it upside down hunting for a needle and thread. My Pierre Cardin shirt had lost a button. I tried in succession to thread my way through the needle’s eye, but all in vain. I failed, and eventually had to give up Pierre Cardin. If only Hassan Chacha the tailor was around!
Hassan the tailor had a true measure of all village men in Kansbahal, India. His shop was a wooden kiosk elevated on four wooden legs. The termite-eaten walls had gaping holes with sunlight and rodents peeping through. Posters on the walls made the shop look like a film ticket counter. The click-clack of the sewing machine and the jarring radio belted out some remix music, only of its kind.
Hassan the tailor could be seen from his small window. At work he was in poetic motion, a perfect synchronisation of head and feet pedalling on the Usha sewing machine. More than often, he would disappear behind the nearby bushes. He had a weak bladder.
His artistry in tailoring lay with his measuring tape, scissor, needles and a spectrum of colourful bobbins. With pencil neatly tucked on his ear and a passion to stitch, Hassan was a man on mission, born to dress.
He was a man for all occasions – baby napkins, school uniforms, kurta-pyjamas, pants, shorts, shirts, safari suits, wedding, party wear and robes for the funeral.
October in Orissa was a festival season and the tailor was the most sought out man. We children would stand in perfect harmony at his shop pedestal. He would measure us head to toe and scribble some numbers on his diary. His wisdom fingers would feel the fabric and unfurl the cloth bundle on his working table. Our anxious ears could not wait more to hear dates for dress trials. With some persuasion and negotiation the final date would be marked on the loosely hung calendar. The dog collar, double pocket shirt and bell-bottom pants, were in vogue.
We would have sleepless nights while Hassan tailored our dreams. The day for rehearsals would finally arrive and we would be at Hassan’s dress ramp. And Hassan’s haute couture would be ready for the kill. The coal fired iron box would finally crease the new dress. Only Hassan could add to our pomp and show. There was no festival without his stitches, but we grew up being clothed by Hassan.
While I still bask in the realms of the had been, dressing fashion and lifestyles have changed. Boutiques now clothe the elite. Designer brands are at war. Malls lure customers with tantalising shopping offers. ‘Take one, get one free,’ the adverts scream, and we get bitten by the bug.
Clothes are a colossal waste if bought without a purpose. The monstrous wardrobes have heap loads of apparel, piled by us. We are slaves to our own impulsive buying and instinct. We do not button or alter clothes. We discard them because we can afford new ones. There are millions looking to be clothed, while we shed them.
Hassan the tailor now has competition and more mouths to feed. His son in-law Latif is learning the threads of the profession. But, at 71 Hassan is still going strong. He still has an eye for the needle. In a jiffy, he can thread the eye.
Men dressed by him have made it big. It is 10 years since I gifted him a pair of German scissors. While the scissors are proudly displayed in his shop he still savours the old. My scissors will have to wait.
But, I do make it a point to visit his shop every time I go back home. I don’t throw away my clothes; I take them back home knowing Hassan and his scissors would love them. For Hassan, ‘A stitch in time saves nine’. Finding a good tailor is like finding a needle in a hay stack.
First published in Khaleej Times, Dubai - UAE on,May 12, 2010