I was always the kid who selected her own clothes. After watching Urmila Matondkar in ‘Rangeela’, I also wanted her flowy mini skirt. So my mother took me to a tailor who replicated the look for me. That is my first memory of having a conversation with a spectacled uncle wearing an ‘inchi tape’ around his neck, holding a fuchsia pink chalk that got me excited. When I saw the stitched garment, I felt so elated that I wore the skirt till its last breath. The happiness was unreal. Since then, my ‘darzi’ and I have always shared a bitter-sweet relationship. From calling the first tailor uncle and then bhaiyya, to finally calling him by his name, my bond with my tailor has been quite extraordinary. He was the one I could levy authority on and crib when he spoilt a salwar kameez. But he was also the first 'designer' whose clothes I waited to wear with bated breath.
After moving to a new city, the struggle to find a good tailor was genuine, and when I did, it felt like I had won a war. Raju tailor in Mumbai and Pehnava in Noida have been my favourites. Everytime I gave them a piece of fabric with rough sketches, they tried their best to create a beautiful garment out of it. My first LBD was stitched by them, even the lehenga I wore to my sister’s wedding was ‘part-designer-part alchemist.’ But somewhere between stand-alone designers, bespoke luxury tailoring, online shopping, and fast-fashion stores in malls, we have lost that one-to-one relationship with our neighbourhood darzi.
The role of the tailor has undergone a great change in recent times. Upwardly mobile urban dwellers no longer want to go through the hassle of getting clothes stitched. One of the reasons is the cost and the second is ease of access. If you can easily get your size and style online or at a nearby mall, why bother with buying fabric, racking your brain for a suitable style, and waiting for days while it is being made?
With changing demand, the masterjis of yore have got absorbed into the new system -- some take up jobs at India's booming clothing manufacturing industries; some join hands with fashion designers in the cities. Some have modernized their services and offer pick-up and delivery from your doorstep, where they come armed with smartphones and vehicles.
I take heart in the fact that many still continue their old ways in crowded street bazaars, a row of salwar-kameezes on hangers behind them, as they sit hunched over their machines. As young women in jeans and middle-aged matrons in saris stand in que, you notice that the darzi is stitching the new style of backless blouses.