Any Indian woman who wears saris knows of the quest of this special relationship. For some, this quest is fulfilled very early in life. For some others, this is an eternal search. And yet others flirt around. This is the quest for the person who will become intimately familiar with the topography of your upper body. Not only do they begin to know every gradient at play, but have an intimate understanding of how your curvature vectors are evolving with time. The quest is to find a good “blouse tailor.” I have been fortunate to find one at the age of 16.
I recall going into his shop as a giddy, excited high-schooler to get my first blouse sewed for my cousin’s wedding. My grandmother had decided that I was old enough to wear my first sari. It was an elegant gold Kancheevaram silk with maroon border. The “blouse-piece” was 70 cm of “two by two” coarse maroon fabric. Silk-cotton and silk blouses were rare or probably even non-existent then. “Nobles,” as we called him, took precise measurements in a little side room amidst piles of fabric under the watchful eyes of my mother. He made me two blouses for the wedding; the maroon round neck and a green high back one.
“Nobles” has a reputation for not liking to be rushed. Hence in subsequent years after coming to the United States, I tried getting blouses made by other tailors on quick trips back home, but nothing seemed to feel right. So I found myself returning to the familiar Noble Tailors shop on 10th Cross, Malleswaram to pick up on our relationship. Mr. Gangadhar was delighted to see an old customer, and his eyes twinkled when I reminded him that he made my first blouse. He now has his older son helping in the business, but he continues to cut the fabric. Anyone who knows anything about sewing knows that it’s all in the “cut.” Each time, the father and son duo would try to convince me to get more adventurous with the necksline and designs of my blouse but I resisted. On this one visit, when his son was pressuring me to try some adventurous styles I looked pleadingly at the father for rescue and said, “You need the personality to wear those kind of blouses, don’t you?” I was not being self-deprecatory, but merely stating that “bling” is not me. He said back very kindly to me “Amma, what do you lack in personality?” They relented to my wish to make my regular round neck. Over the years, I would be surprised with an occasional square neck tucked in the middle of the stack of blouses that I would pick back from him. When I recently gave him a piece of Kalamkari patterned fabric and asked him to make a high back with a low front blouse, he laughed and asked “I will do it, but will you wear it?”
As my daughter wears half-saris now, I am happy to be able to provide him an outlet for his creative ideas. He has found in her a willing recipient for the lattices, tassels, rhinestones and “what-have-you” that he always believed I should have tried, but has given up pushing on me.
I also learned that he is “The Tailor Nazi.” When you enter his shop, you dare not disturb him if he is in the middle of cutting or discussing a pattern with his assistant. You dare not take inferior material to him, as he will unhesitantly pick it with the tip of his fingers and put it aside saying “no need for this, amma.”
When I receive compliments from my sari snob friends, I feel elated. But the ultimate is the stamp of approval from my dear old “Nobles” himself. At the end of each shopping spree, I land with bags and bags of saris at his shop. His son will open up each sari to cut out the fabric for the blouse. Mr. Gangadhar will pick up an occasional sari and look at me and say, “Amma, this sari is very good.” A thrill goes through me when I see his genuine appreciation.
It has now been 34 years since I first stepped in to Noble Tailors. On my most recent visit, I left him with all of my blouse-pieces and told him to make them a tad looser than the “measurement blouse.” I went back after a few days with a different measurement blouse thinking this may have been a better one to give him. He told me that he had already cut my blouses, but asked what was different about this one. I said it was a bit looser and he replied that he had already accommodated it as per my original instruction. He then said, “Amma, you should not over-think. It will be fine.” And we then exchanged thoughts of how this is true for anything, not just tailoring.
As I am well into my mid-life, I ruminate frequently on things that I wish for my daughters’ future. And amidst these wishes is my fond hope that my daughters, too, will form a special relationship with their tailor. A relationship based on good-natured comaraderie, emphazing high standards of quality and service, and one that will goad them ever so gently to take risks, and do so with kindness appropriate for a garment that is so close to their heart!
Software engineer, arts enthusiast and people-observer, Raji lives in Audubon, PA with her husband and two daughters.