Opposite the Town Hall in Purani Dilli’s Chandini Chowk, in one of the snaky lanes brimming with the commotion of too many people, lies Kucha Rehman, a reference point for sherwanis in New Delhi for generations together. The lane, long occupied by tailors specialising in custom stitching this piece of traditional gentlemen’s wear, now also has shops that sell drapes and upholstery, squeezing the number of sherwani stitching shops to a sprinkle, 14-15 at the most.
This subtle change in the character of the lane is an indicator of the change the sherwani market is going through. The traditional style is fast giving in to what the tailors at Rehman call, “Indo-Western.”
“A sherwani type robe ends at the knee,” Khursheed Ali of Free India Tailors and Clothing tries explaining it to me. This new style, “liked by youngsters, more so in the last 2-3 years,” has but made the traditional pajama almost redundant. “It is worn with pants,” he says.
Manzar Ahmed of Nazeer & Sons concurs, “Out of 10 orders I do, one would be for the traditional sherwani. Typically, the old gentry go for it.” The wedding season that has just gone past, established even more that “Indo-Western is the new norm”, he says.
Each of these shops would fling at you a pile of style books (“latest madam!”) with young models in Indo-Western holding girls in short skirts. Pointing at one of the ornately embroidered styles in one such book, another tailor, Zaheer Ahmed, notes, “Look at this cloth. It is brocade, comes with embroidery. You will get it in Nai Sadak. This cloth certainly looks good but it will also gradually finish the tradition of embroidery on sherwanis which we get done for customers now as per their choice.” He is not complaining though. “The number of karigars has gone down. Very few are coming to Old Delhi from U.P. these days.”
While Khursheed Ali proudly calls himself “one of the few people” who still make hand-hemmed cotton kurtas, his ailing elder brother Murtaza recalls his father’s times. “We have been here since 1950. There are some much older shops still functioning, though many of them have moved to readymade stuff because of the demand.” Weaving into the conversation a whiff of nostalgia, he recalls his father “making sherwanis for ministers in the Nehru Government.”
He sighs, “Those times are gone, show me one person in an Old Delhi street moving about in a traditional sherwani today.”