The Enigma Behind the Making of a New Dress in Simla of Sixties and Carrying it Forward
New dresses were always something which would add to the glamour of otherwise banal life of Simla in Sixties so far attires were concerned. To be honest, neither did we need many dresses nor we had, rather no one did, atleast amongst the people we lived with. From morning till evening we had our, ever faithful school uniforms, Navy blue and white small checked frocks with rounded collars and the belts to tie-up at the waist. White socks with blue lines at the top which we would fold neatly and black leather shoes. To complete the look, two plaits tightly done and folded with the Navy blue ribbons. As soon as we would come back from school, the first thing was to change the school uniform into ” ghar wale kapde”, clothes worn at home which would either be the frocks which had outlived their life and lustre to qualify to be worn at special occasions. There used to be large number of such clothes. The category of “bahar wale kapde” would have two sub-categories, one those which we would wear for evening walks on the Mall and beyond or when we went visiting friends or relatives on Sundays or holudays. The second type of “bahar wale kapde” would be of the top class or in today’s terminology high-end dresses which would be our special wear for special occasions…some birthday parties, marriages or some celebrations. The making of these special dresses would be special exercise right from the inception that is whenever there was some celebration around the corner. It would call for cloths purchasing exercise, a bid deal for me. Amma and Bauji would go to Hakam Mull Tani Mull shop and we would be excitedly running along with them. Although I would cross this shop multiple times during my daily excursions to Lower Bazaar but going with an agenda to make selection of cloth for our dresses would be a very special occasion for us. The rolls of cloth, in fact these would be “Thaans” double folded cloth , very neatly bound around a hard brown coloured condensed rectangular piece. We called it “gatta” in common parlance. The dress material, in different colours, prints and makes would be unrolled one after another, one over many others and what a feast it would be to my eyes. In fact it satiated all my senses…it would smell so good, try smelling a new cloth you would know what I mean, it is a one-of-its-kind smells.. unparalleled! Next it would satisfy my tactile sense as I would touch each cloth material..the Tissue would just skip between my fingers, the Terelene would be too shiny, gsudy and slippery to touch, Taffeta would make a rustling sound, the starched cotton’s would groan on touch and shed some whitish material on rubbing. Channele with its velvety touch would be a pleasure to hold in hands..its royal feel and the majestic shades would mesmerize me. But Amma would go for something less expensive for us. Her argument would be that girls outgrow clothes very soon so what is the point of getting such costly material for them Bauji didn’t like Tissue and Terelene putting argument that these catch fire and are unhealthy for skin. Starchy cottons would also fail the test of durability and fast colours. We would be left with some Crepe, Taffeta and Satin clothes to choose from and Taffeta it would be. Amma was lucky to have bought deep purple colored Channele suit length for her. It was so pretty and I thought she would look so beautiful in that suit. Selection would be over after much thought, money, too, would be an important deciding factor but this was a fact which was never discussed before us. The shopkeeper would give us the annual calendar with picture of goddess Lakshmi on it and sometimes one or two spare “gattas” as well!!!
Once back home we would again spread all the cloths and would touch them, drape them around us and dance!! Amma would stop us lest they be spoiled. Next exercise to follow the purchase would be deciding about stitching of the clothes. For Amma’s deep purple Channel suit, it was decided that the neck, lower front and the sleeve cuffs would be machine embroidered in golden thread at a shop adjascent to the stairs near Sabzi Mandi as this style was in vogue those days. There was an embroidery shop in the lower bazaar where on s big machine, a man would be embroidering cloths. He had displayed so many specimen patterns embroidered on a cloth in his shop. He also had a book of designs from where one could select the design of her choice and preference. Though it would cost more money but Amma offered to do mukesh on the dupatta herself in gold wires which were available at the Fancy General Store in small bundles, to makeup for this. Excitement ran on its top level at this point. So far our dresses were concerned they would be stitched by Amma herself on her Usha sewing machine, but we could select some design that we loved. It was a very liberal offer to me..
Both of us, my sister and I were purchased same colours cloth for frocks. Amma would stitch us dresses from that cloth…same design and same colour, even the pattern of the dresses would be same. There was nothing wrong in that as almost all sister’s wore similar dresses. And everyone enjoyed it. But there was a problem as my elder sister was very particular with the maintenance of her clothes whereas I was just the opposite. Many a fights would be fought on the battleground where claiming ownership of the best of the dresses would be the object of dispute. I would put claim for the one which my elder sister would also hold ownership of…and we would fight tooth and nail over it much to the distress of Amma and entertainment of the neighbors. So this time, to avoid any further quarrels on account of this, Amma devised a way out and decided to make some demarcations while stitching our dresses, some piping or a bow of a different colour or pattern to solve the problem. We agreed in principle to this proposal. went to sleep that day dreaming of my Red Taffeta Frock with white pearls in my neck and matching red satin ribbons in my plaits. How beautiful I would look, the mere imagination of the picture was such a pleasant feeling to my little mind. Next day onwards, whenever I visited Lower Bazaar or the Mall, another agenda item was added to my to-do list, one was to look at the embroidery designs for Amma’s suit and second was to search for a demarcation design for my Red Taffeta frock to make it look better. The result of that red Taffeta frock was far-reaching, even today when I am low, I think of my Red frock and the swish- swash sounds it made when rustling against its own pleats or against my thin legs when I literally flew over the 108 stairs from Nathu Halwai shop to the Mall.
Life in retrospect makes me susceptible of the manner in which kids are being raised these days. At least so far I am concerned, I raised my kids in my own way..buying cloth for dresses, stitching them on my Shaan sewing machine, till they were really grownups.
But my granddaughter is bring deprived of this pleasure. Online shopping has done the worst damage to snatch this small pleasure from the new generation kids. To compensate for it when my granddaughter comes visiting us during summer holidays, I stitch dresses for her on my Shaan machine… and the incredulous look on her face on realizing that dresses can be stitched at home transforms into a big smile when she puts that on…We have so much legacy and values to pass on to our next generations!!