The first thing you learn in this job is to stitch the perfect button-hole. When my father left me at a seasoned tailor’s when I was 12, that is what I learnt first. I had dropped out after Class V, and 55 years ago there were not many jobs to choose from. The button-hole is tricky and stitching it cleanly is a test of skill. A novice might take up to six months to get it right. After the first hurdle, one moves on to bigger things such as oiling the machine. Tailoring shirts, trousers and sari blouses come much later. I began by earning Rs. 2.50 a day.
In the past five decades, I have seen trends come and ago. After apprenticeship with a few tailors, I opened Sobha Tailors at Nadakkav, 38 years ago. “Bobby collars” and “bell-bottoms” were what everyone wanted then. As for sari blouses, the sleeves keep getting longer and shorter; so do the necklines. I have seen trends fade out and come back in vogue after decades. Slim-fit trousers were the trend decades ago, they are back now.
Weddings, festivals and school season were busy times in the past. All the wedding orders, including sari blouses, trousers and shirts, would come to the tailor. Now, since people go for the readymade, the tailor ends up with only sari blouses. School uniforms too do not come to individual tailors as schools give out bulk orders.
I stuck to tailoring since I do not know any other job. My brothers joined me in between and left midway. So I dissuade my sons from joining this establishment. Youngsters are not coming in to this job now. If they work at a construction site or do painting job, they go home with Rs.600 a day. Here, unless you have finished work to show at the end of the day, you earn nothing. For a sari blouse with lining, I pay a worker Rs.75 and there have been people who stitched seven -10 blouses a day. Those were better days when I worked with three others. Now, machines lie idle. I have just a worker to help me out with button work.
That also means I do not take too much work now. I only do blouses and turn away others. There is no point taking on work if you cannot deliver. Earlier, I used to open shop at 9 a.m. and work till 9 p.m. I am growing old, so I open at 10 a.m. and shut at 9. I live at Pantheerankkavu with my wife and sons. The house I built there is the only testimony to what I made out of this job.
Having spent over three decades in this shop, I have been witness to interesting action. Since the shop is adjacent to the police station, protest marches inevitably congregate here. I remember once the protestors turned violent and a policeman was injured. I gave clothes from the shop to bandage his wound.
A weekly column on the men and women who make Kozhikode what it is.