Mohammed Abdul Gaffar and his brother Jabbar carry on a 79-year-old sartorial legacy
The newly renovated walls at A. Rahman and Sons hide the many decades of stitching and measuring behind the tailoring shop. For over 75 years, A. Rahman and Sons have lent sartorial grace to sherwanis, kurta pyjamas and salwar kameez for MPs, generations of Nawabs, two former presidents of India, and a prince of Saudi Arabia. Established in 1933 by the late Mohammed Abdul Rahman, the tailoring unit is managed by brothers Mohammed Abdul Gaffar and Jabbar and Gaffar’s son Arsalan.
Mohammed Abdul Gaffar is a bespectacled man with paan-stained teeth and very few words. He works more than 12 hours a day, managing more than 20 employees. A customer walks in and Abdul Gaffar pulls out the inch tape from around his neck and starts measuring, meticulously jotting down the numbers in a green and pink book. Asking the customer to pull out the contents of his breast pocket so that he gets the measurements right, he turns and explains, “It’s all about fitting, madam.” The quaint store in the bustling market at Abids is clinging to what’s left of its heritage. Unlike the bright décor of Meena Bazaar and Dayal’s store nearby, A. Rahman and Sons displays only a fading black and white signboard. What makes people come back to them? Abdul Gaffar says, “Fitting.” The shop hasn’t moved even once, claims Abdul Gaffar, and adds that it never will. He believes that in the profession of tailoring the face really matters. You have to be present, so that people recognise you and trust you to stitch for them. “I can afford to put up a plush- looking shop, but it doesn’t matter how shiny your shop is, kaam se farak padtha hai (the work makes the difference),” he says. One customer says he has been coming to them since Gaffar’s father was running the shop. He places a request for six salwars to be stitched by Eid. Gaffar turns him down, with regret. He doesn’t like saying no to customers, but orders pour in, especially during Ramzan, and the shop runs all night. Men walk in first demanding and then, realising the rush, requesting him to deliver sooner.
Rows of freshly stitched sherwanis and kurtas stand in testimony to the many who trust A. Rahman and Sons to dress them. Persistent and unswayed by their popularity, the brothers thrive on customer satisfaction. Gaffar took up tailoring right after completing standard X, while his younger brother Jabbar came into the business after finishing his B.Com. When asked if he would have liked to study and become something else, Gaffar says, “My grandfather was a darzi, my father was a darzi and I wanted to be a darzi too. Since childhood, I knew that silai-bunai (stitching) is my profession.”
The chugging of the sewing machines takes us to the inconspicuous ladder leading up to Gaffar’s workplace, where three tailors sit with inch tapes around their necks, buried under white and blue fabric. He learnt tailoring from Buchaiah Mama, a trusted employee of his father. He recalls times when he used to get hit with measuring tapes and scales for committing silly errors. “In those days what was taught once wouldn’t be taught again,” he says.
Gaffar’s son Mohammed Arsalan, at 16, is gradually gaining insight into the trade. He hopes to join the business once he completes an engineering degree. “This has been started by my grandfather and I know this tailoring unit is a legacy,” says Arsalan. He admits to boasting at school about stitching for celebrities.
The website Gaffar recently set up has increased their reach. “Now we get orders from abroad as well,” he says with excitement. “We have around 2000 loyal customers.” Gaffar stresses attention to detail and masterly cuts. Fond of stitching by hand, he hasn’t touched the needle and thread in many years. He does the cutting and lets others stitch for him. Long business hours have taken him away from stitching, he says. “Sometime in the future, maybe, I’ll stitch again, for the pleasure of it.”