Hear! hear! Here is a winner

Subramanian: a cut above the rest. — Photo: K. Gopinathan  

M. SUBRAMANIAN cannot speak, nor can he hear, but when you say he's as sharp as a needle, you are not far off the mark. Despite his double handicap, he has made quite a name for himself as a gents' tailor. This 41-year-old runs his tailoring establishment, Muthukumar Mens' Wear, with a small army of assistants, four of whom are similarly handicapped.

It has been a trial for Subramanian, who passed out of the Sheila Kothavala Institute for the Deaf in 1976. Even while in school, Subramanian would help out his brother, who is also deaf, in the latter's tailoring establishment. This apprenticeship stood by him in good stead, for, though Subramanian was called for interviews at the HMT factory, Tumkur, and ISRO, Bangalore, he was not selected. He decided that he would help himself. He had not done any vocational course and whatever skills he picked up were at his brother's tailoring shop.

His parents, who have seen the horror of three of their nine children handicapped, chipped in with Rs. 20,000, and Subramanian set up shop, named after his father, in 1982. Initially he had five partners, who also trained under him. It was not easy at first. But his grit, coupled with encouragement from his parents, friends, and other well-wishers, saw him through those tough days.

Subramanian, who communicates through sign language (the obverse side of his visiting card displays the alphabet of the sign language) and the written word, says he picked up contemporary styles and cuts along the way. Now he is a master tailor.

Initially customers were apprehensive whether Subramanian would measure up to their sartorial specifications. However, he proved he was as good as any painstaking professional. Communication was not really a problem (this is where his unique visiting card came in useful) and Subramanian's capabilities were soon a given. As he puts it: "My customers respect me and admire me. I am a simple, deaf person and I don't find it difficult to convince them of my sincerity and ability. I am very particular about keeping my deadlines. I don't make my customers run around unnecessarily and I hardly make any mistakes. My clients are steadily increasing. That itself shows how successful I am. Today, not only am I gainfully employed, but I've provided employment to more than a dozen persons, four of whom are deaf."

His customers come from all streams of life — politicians, policemen, bank officers, students, and professionals. Satisfied customers recommend him to others. Subramanian's specialties are suits, safaris, shirts, trousers, and kurtas, in all styles and cuts. "My charges are very reasonable," he says, and adds that they are cheaper than competition. Poor people get a discount, he says.

One of his proudest moments was in 1993, when the Rotary Club of Bangalore Downtown, several of whose members are his customers, honoured him with a trophy for his never-say-die attitude. He was similarly honoured by the Association of the Deaf on the occasion of the International Day of the Deaf on December 27, 1998.

He is a stern but fair taskmaster as far as his employees are concerned. He had to sack four of them as they made fun of his disability. He says he did it to ensure that they understood the value of dignity and self-reliance. The other employees, he says, are hardworking and work overtime to meet deadlines during festivals and the marriage season.

He wants to expand his business and is looking for financial backing. He intends to purchase cutting machines from Japan and Germany. He also wants to computerise his operations. He plans to get into stitching of uniforms — both students' and workers' — and blazer logos.

Subramanian is a cricket buff and has opened for the Karnataka Deaf Cricket Team in the national championships held at Jamshedpur, Mumbai, and Haryana from 1976 to 1983.

He relaxes by watching TV. Even then he keeps a sharp lookout for new styles and designs. "I immediately copy them out in pencil sketches," he smiles. He is happily married to Shakuntala, who is a great support. They have three daughters, the youngest of whom is deaf. But this has not demoralised the couple. They are already training her to be self-reliant. She is in the nursery class at Little Flower Convent for the Deaf in Chennai. Once she finishes school, she will be encouraged to start a women's wear unit.

Subramanian's address is: Muthukumar Mens' Wear, 266, Between 17th and 18th Cross, Sampige Road, Malleswaram.