THE FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD TAILOR
When I was a young boy, well that’s how any story starts, isn’t it? I could not get off the beaten track to tell my story of the friendly neighborhood tailor. There have been many of them, so it naturally should be ‘tailors’. Not only tailors, there have been doctors and barbers, vegetable vendors, the milkman and the grocery stores etc. so the neighborhood was always well endowed with friends and suppliers of services, whose faces we knew, knew their names and sometimes the problems in their families when in a moment of desperation, they would share with us. Not that they did not know what happens in our own household. But that was how it was, the world revolved around the neighborhood. Now the only thing the servant maid shares with us is how her husband had come home drunk, beaten her and taken away the money she had kept in a tin box with the friendly Tasmac outlets (Govt. liquor shops) strewn around the neighborhood, with the sole intent of gaining some pity and some money. Now with the supermarkets, the dairy outlets, ready-made garment shops and the online stores where you can order anything you want: the faces have been lost and names unknown and neighborhood gossip.
I still remember the milkman, a tall black giant of a man who would bring the cows in front of the house to convey to you that the milk was straight from the cow’s udder. But in the kitchen, my mother would invariably complain that the milk was diluted. We never came to know how he did it. But when he came to collect his money which he did twice or thrice a month and stand in front of my mother, scratching his head and asking for an advance, my mother would let him have a piece of her mind. He would stand grinning, all his thirty-two teeth prominent on his black face and ultimately leave after getting what he wanted. He continued till we left the place and on the last day, he bid us farewell with tears in his eyes. That was the first time I saw a giant of a man who would enact the role of Hanumanji in the neighborhood Ramnavami festival, could also cry; a twenty-year relationship having come to an end.
There were so many of them whose services were rendered during those years without any growling, bargaining or cheating. Loyalty and faith was the ground on which these relationships were built. But coming back to what I started writing about the friendly neighborhood tailor.
I can still visualize that lean, miserable looking pockmarked face which had stitched all the shirts and pants my father wore and later mine. I do not know when my father started giving him work but he was there till we left Vizag after my father’s death. He had come and shed tears, real ones. Maybe he was way ahead of times for his measurements were either too tight or too loose, never right. My father would always try to get them altered and ultimately end up wearing loose fitting clothes. Once when in all my childhood innocence I asked my father why he did not go to another tailor, he would smile at me and say, “Poor chap, he has been there for such a long time it would be unfair to desert him, and he is a very loyal and trustworthy fellow.” Yes he was, but he would take on much more than he could handle and would always end up never meeting his deadlines. The result was that every time my father went to collect his clothes the tailor would come running out of his shop saying “Sar sar sar I will definitely have it ready by tomorrow” but tomorrow never came, it would be ready only a week later. My father would scold him in his broken Telugu and he would stand with that miserable look on his face and scratch his head. It was then I learned that to say sorry one should scratch the back of one’s head. Of course, I have never attempted it, especially now with no covering on my head. My father’s heart would melt and all forgiven. Anytime we passed by his shop there would be crowd of customers shouting at him, and to each one of them he would repeat “Sar sar sar I will definitely get it ready by tomorrow.”
I can never forget the day when my father and I on our evening walk passed by his shop and found him sitting outside and crying. When my father asked him the reason, he revealed that since he did not meet the deadlines for a bridegroom’s dress, the family had come and dismantled all his sewing machines and went away with them. On further questioning by my father, he said that the wedding was on that very day. My father could do nothing much except to console him.
Times changed and when we came to Madras after my father passed away, I found all my trousers were too loose and drainpipes were in. I remember my mother repairing them at home as per the prevailing style. It was luck that I did not need to stitch new pants. It was not the same when the drainpipes became bellbottoms, I had to get a new wardrobe. Amitabh Bachchan had done the damage and people were strutting the streets with their bottoms, sorry that should read pant bottoms waving in the wind as they walked. Well, that’s another story for another day. Now I have once again found a friendly neighborhood tailor who alters my pants mostly reducing the length of the pants bought from the not too friendly neighborhood super-store.
Why did I now remember the friendly neighborhood tailor of my childhood days? My father passed away on 28th March 1963 and that day he was there, our friendly neighborhood tailor as miserable as he always was but there were copious tears streaming down his face. I understood what my father had long ago understood that for all his faults he was a human being with a soul, a good man.