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Kamala Bastralaya

Discussion in 'Snippets of Life (Non-Fiction)' started by ojaantrik, Oct 5, 2014.

  1. ojaantrik

    ojaantrik IL Hall of Fame

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    As you meander down Manohar Pukur Road towards Rashbehari Avenue in Calcutta, you are likely to notice a paint store bearing the Asian Paints logo at the right hand corner of the meeting point of the two streets. I never had any use for the store, but have often wondered in the course of the last few years when it was that it came into being. For it didn’t exist when I was a child or even when I was a university student. Instead, it was Kamala Bastralaya that occupied this prime location.

    I am not sure if Kamala Bastralaya, a tailor shop, was born before me. I had seen it at least since the days I was a toddler, so it could well have been older than me. And following natural laws, I still exist (or so I believe) and Kamala Bastralaya does not. It was a shop into which my elder brother and I were heralded as the Durga Puja Festival drew near. Those were days when readymade garments had not invaded the market and brand names were rare to come by. Parents and close relatives presented us with shirt and short lengths, whose colours invariably matched our school uniforms. With these we marched to the tailor for measurements to be taken. The proprietor of the shop, a tallish man for a Bengali, wore black framed glasses and a squint in his eyes. He would call out numbers designating the sizes of different parts of our bodies and his chief assistant wrote them down on a note pad. This used to be an embarrassing experience, for his voice was loud and measurements of certain parts of my body, that I would normally not discuss in public, would be audible to all customers present in the shop.

    I can still recall the assistant's face. Darkish, a sharp nose protruding slightly beyond what would be called normal. I don't think I had ever seen any of them smiling, either at the customers or at each other. If they did smile once in a while, it was a closely guarded secret. However, the expressions on their faces wouldn't make a customer feel unwanted. There was a trick in this trade whose secrets I never managed to unravel.

    There were other assistants too who were constantly whirring away at their respective sewing machines sitting on an elevated wooden platform located towards the far end of the shop. These were manually run machines, electric sewing machines were an unheard of phenomena in that Jurassic age.

    A long wooden table, separating the customers from the workers, ran all the way from the entrance to the shop to its end under the elevated platform. The strangest part of our regular relationship with this shop was that it never occurred to us that we didn't know the names of anyone of its employees, leave alone the owner himself. But they knew our names, since our exchanges were recorded in a receipt book bearing names and probably addresses too.

    Once our measurements were noted down, a date would be fixed for the trial and we had to show up without fail on that day. A second round of number crunching accompanied the trial ceremony and the master tailor used a flat, blue triangular marker to indicate necessary alterations in the garments. I learnt from my mother that the marker was made of special stuff, the marks being washable once the final delivery was made.

    I can't recall if Kamala Bastralaya attended to my needs once I transcended from shorts to trousers, for by that time my friends included fashion conscious boys and they could have led me to dandier joints that catered to the classy customer. That should have cost me more money and endless hankering with my poor, dear middle class mother.

    My father, on the other hand, stuck to Kamala Bastralaya all through, that is till he was able to make it to the shop without external assistance. And I have no idea if he had use of his physical faculties by the time the shop wound up. Despite his loyalty to the shop though, he never ceased to be critical of its sartorial skills. His trousers for example were always ordered at this shop and by the time the final product arrived he was ever prepared to walk over to pull them up. And this love hate relationship with the tailor would often lead to situations that bordered on farce.

    On one occasion, he criticised them for delivering a pair of trousers with one leg shorter than the other. It was no easy task to make them accept the charge of course. But as far as I know, my father continued the battle with a measuring tape to make his point. Upon which they produced their own tape to prove him wrong. I don't know exactly what the sequence of events were, but I suspect that he disappeared inside the trial room to put on the trouser and demonstrate his point to them. Whether they saw what my father saw is unclear, for they had apparently told him that it was not a trouser leg that was shorter but that there was a mismatch between the lengths of my father's own legs themselves! How this explanation could have resolved the issue is anybody's guess.

    Yet, my father never chose a tailor shop other than Kamala Bastralya. As I remember clearly now, when my parents were living with us in Delhi, one of my father's regular complaints was that he couldn't get his pyjamas stitched at Kamala Bastralaya.

    Well, both my father and his tailor have moved forward now and Asian Paints has made sure that the past has vanished for good behind their "Advanced Anti Ageing" commercial. I never found the courage to walk into this paint store to find out if they had really found an antidote for ageing and if they had then where on earth have the tailor and his grumbling customer disappeared?

    Well Devi Durga came amidst much grandeur recently and now she is gone. Unlike my younger days, I didn't go pandal hopping. Nor to purchase things to wear. But the Devi made sure nonetheless that I couldn't detach myself from my past. Crowds of memories kept flocking in, the tailor, the stationer and the ever smiling salesman at Bata Shoe Store bang opposite Kamala Vilas on Rashbehari Avenue, where South Indians found refuge during their stints with Calcutta. But of that, some other day.
     
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  2. Balajee

    Balajee IL Hall of Fame

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    Woa what a roller coaster trip down the memory lane. Such tailors who customize your attire are a vanishing species. Tailoring is either mostly reserved for fashion houses who make bespoke suits or to lowbrow areas where people can't afford expensive readymade stuff. remember as a kid, these tailors were like family.They knew you and your family members by name and even knew in which class you were studying.
     
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  3. Srama

    Srama Finest Post Winner

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    Dear Oj da,

    As I read through this snippet, I could literally visuallize you going through these thoughts with a smile on your face, perhaps? Oh those tailors and the special place they held for my parents. Though I always felt women were fussy about their blouses and dresses, now that you mention it, it was my dad who had this relationship with his tailor. Perhaps, these tailors and the barbers had this special place for them. I belong to the ready made clothes generation and except for school uniform, we never went to a tailor and this one tailor wanted to make my uniform look fancier than others thinkingsmiley and ended up adding a patch on my sleeve that matched my skirt - school refused the uniform, mom refused to get another one, school had to compromise but I took the beating - the odd one out with that fancy patch for a year!!! Looks like it is that generation thing - my grand mom had given me a piece of cloth for a long skirt and I cherished it and wore it for a long time after getting it stitched and believe it or not, even to this day my FIL takes my kids to his tailor and gets their clothes stitched - it does not matter to him that my DD does not want a 'gents tailor' to stitch 'her shirt' and my DS shakes his head - but for my MIL, he is the best tailor where he had his clothes stitched, his son's clothes and now his gran kids!

    Some thing to say about those days and those habits and those love/hate relationships.

    As always enjoyed reading it.
     
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  4. ojaantrik

    ojaantrik IL Hall of Fame

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    Quite true Balajee. Vanishing species indeed. But when you view them through your mind's eye, they seem to be standing right in front of you. And my father's battles with the tailor he couldn't do without still brings back a smile or two. Only yesterday, I was speaking to my brother who lives in the US. I asked him if he remembered Kamala Bastralaya. He did and we had a good laugh over memories we can still share.

    Best regards.

    oj
     
  5. ojaantrik

    ojaantrik IL Hall of Fame

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    Thank you Srama for this lovely fb. It's full of human warmth. When I think of these people, I can't help believing that I can begin to write. Stories I mean. Simple people, simple uncomplicated lives, yet full of meaning. We must all have come across them, hoards of them, through our lives. Just need to recall them and place them in context. It is sure to produce humour. Perhaps a tear or two.

    oj-da
     
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  6. GoogleGlass

    GoogleGlass IL Hall of Fame

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    Nice one OJ/OK - many such craftsmen and the trades have gone extinct.

    Only those who grew up with them would miss them. For the newer generation it doesn't make a difference since they are not aware of. Life goes on.

    Nice one about your good old days.
     
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  7. Cheeniya

    Cheeniya Super Moderator Staff Member IL Hall of Fame

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    My dear OJ

    There is none to beat you in the art of reminiscing at least in IL. If you start a school for novices in reminiscing like me, I would be the first to enroll. The most essential aspect of taking a stroll down memory lane is to ensure that your readers are not only with you but also become an integral part of all your experience. You do it as effortlessly as the Pied Piper of Hamelin!

    I had spent a couple of years in the ‘70s in Kolkata in and around the area you have mentioned and I should say that going through this classic piece of vintage OJ made me extremely nostalgic and mind you, my association with Rashbehari Avenue was just for a couple of years. I always used the tram for finding my way around and in those two years, I became as conversant with Rashbehari Avenue and the Lake Market as a resident rat! As I was reading you, I was trying to place the Kamala Bastralaya but not with much success. If you had written about some obscure South Indian restaurant in any gully of that area, I would have easily placed it but a tailor shop was never in my agenda during those days. It is quite possible that the Bastralaya breathed its last even before I set foot in Rashbehari Avenue.

    With your vivid description of Kamala Bastralaya, I could relate to my own tailor Koneri Row of Pycrofts Road that took complete charge of ensuring that I was reasonably clad during my school days. This Pycrofts Road is like the Savile Row of London only in the sense of being infested with Tailors. Most of them were Row, a Marathi speaking community that took to tailoring as fish took to water. Koneri Row was a fat pajama clad guy who had a habit of shaking his right leg very fast even as he was standing. He would take measurements and reel out numbers to his assistant. I guess the numbers followed certain pre-determined sequence and he would not say chest 42, tummy 48 etc but just simply 42, 48 and so on. This gave us some confidentiality and caused us not much embarrassment.

    This elevated platform arrangement was in vogue even in Pycrofts Road. Koneri Row would get into that cubicle only for a siesta. When you wake up him in the middle of his siesta, he would get up with a start mumbling 42, 48 etc giving you an impression that he was taking measurements even in sleep! All that you have written about Kamala Bastralaya’s tailoring operations would apply mutatis mutandis (as the legal pundits would say) to Koneri Row. This brings out two things in sharp focus. First is your descriptive prowess and the second is the concept of ‘unity in diversity’ among the Indian tailors!

    In the case of Koneri Row, nature itself has endowed his left leg a little extra length compared to his right which probably necessitated his shaking his right leg incessantly. And he probably imagined that all his customers also suffered the same fate and as a result, most of his pants bore this distinctive disparity. None of us ever questioned him on this issue as such was our fierce brand loyalty!

    Thank you OJ for remembering Kamala Bastralaya and sharing it with us. It made me re-live my own school days!
    Sri
     
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  8. Kamalji

    Kamalji IL Hall of Fame

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    Dear OJ,

    Brilliant.

    You know, we had the cloth chap appointed by school, who would come to school, and take our measurments and deliver after a week, and how we waited for the uniforms.

    and a tailor coming home, in the mid sixties, charging i think 5 bucks would come and stitch in yr home, when bus fares i remember in mumbai for distances upto 15 kms, would be like 10 paise, a dosa for 25 paise, movioe ticket, upper class, meaning balcony for 1.60 bucks, wafers for 25 paise, coke for 40 paise, yes coca cola was there , till in 77 was thrown out by Fernandes.

    And elder brothers old clothes i would wear, and mine the younger one woyuld wear, we are 4 brothers, HAHA.

    What a class blog, just took all of us here for a lovely ride, just that the comments are less, but i can say, this deserves a lot more.

    Regards

    kamal
     
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  9. ojaantrik

    ojaantrik IL Hall of Fame

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    Dear GG,

    Yes, they have ceased to exist. Yet, they haven't, since some of us remember them. It is not clear what exists and what does not. Didn't the sky I see today exist yesterday as well? Who can tell!! It's all a matter of mind vs. matter I suppose.

    Thank you for reading and reacting.

    ok
     
  10. ojaantrik

    ojaantrik IL Hall of Fame

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    Dear Sri,

    When I write pieces like this one, I have to admit that you are always in my mind. By now I have realized that you are a friend who is capable of discovering and loving at the same time the indifferent smile of emptiness. I have pretty much lost contact with the so called reality surrounding me. I live and interact with what might be presumed to be emptiness. The void left behind by the passage of time. It is this void that I attempt to dig into in search of beauty, of meaningfulness, of emotions that once expressed must live on till the end of eternity.

    I knew, I was sure that Rashbehari Avenue will force Cheeniya to travel backwards in time, if not in search of Kamala Bastralaya, at least in search of host of things that used to be. It could be a South Indian restaurant, or a tram conductor. Of people who had hoped, who had suffered pain, enjoyed happiness. People who had complained, people who had thanked. Their smiles and tears are bound to merge with eternity in Cheeniya's eyes.

    As I was reading you and about your tailor with unmatched legs, I began to think once again what beauty was all about. And my conclusion was a single word: Silence. The silence of the past, silence of the present non-existence of events that led us on our way to Pondicherry, thanks to arrangements made by you.

    Silence of the brightly coloured kite that someone was flying in a sky that went past us all for millions of years. Sometimes, I feel that true beauty lies in the silence of the past alone. I think there are few forms of art that have captured this as wonderfully as haiku. Look at this one by Buson:

    Perhaps you are wondering if I have lost my mind. Even if this is the case, I am happily immersed in yesterday's sky. I will continue to be in that state till I become a part of yesterday myself.

    oj
     
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