Stitching, sensuality and middleclass sensibility…in Simla of the Sixties
Stitching didn’t require any special training for the women folk of my humble mohalla. Every home had an ever faithful Sewing Machine….a part of dowry of every single matron! Amma had her Usha Sewing Machine…others had Shan, Ritu…or so many others. What’s in a name; sewing machine called by any other name would do the same work. Stitching clothes was a normal occurrence. All it needed was some cloth, a thread, a pair of scissors, a measuring tape and the sewing machine!
Though all our dresses were stitched by Amma but sometimes Amma, too, would like to pamper herself and got some of her ‘Bahar wale’ suites stitched by a Massi living in Laddakhi mohalla. It would be a very exciting day for me when we had to go to Laddakhi mohalla. The entire path from Lower Bazaar to Laddakhi mohalla opened up new experiences for me.
Sometimes we would go from Ganj Bazaar to the Cart Road towards near to the Ghoda Hospital or sometimes walk down the stairs from the Purusharthi mohalla….all the way down to the Cart road. The only problem that Amma would feel was about a “Desi Sharaab ka Thekka” at the path going from Cart Road to the Laddakhi Mohalla had. If there would be some customers standing there we would walk on the Cart Road towards the Bus stand and take another way to the Mohalla through houses of the residents. I learnt that men at the “Sharaab ka Thekka” were to be avoided.
“Why?” We never asked!
Once in the house of the Darjan massi…we would. feel safe. She would take measurement of Amma for her kameez- salwar and then very swiftly write it down in a diary which had many measurements scribbled on the pages.
There would be stacks of cloths, in vivid hues and shades, neatly kept in one corner. And there would be shredding of leftover pieces lying in and around her sewing machine. I would be watching and waiting for her permission to take a few…. These would be Terylene and Rayon and Tissue cloth pieces…making a rustling sound when rubbed against each other and sparkles of light would emerge, seen only in the dark rooms!
I loved florescent pink, yellow and green Terylene cloth and wanted to have a Frock of that material but Bauji would not allow for it. Those days kerosene stoves were much in use and these cloths caught fire, so Bauji was deadly against those. Even Amma could never get one. She could have glazed cottons, poplins, crepes, Chenille and taffeta but never the much dreaded Terylene one! And whenever I would hear about someone dying in stove bursting accident and how the Terylene cloth stuck to the body…. I would be so relieved that Amma didn’t get Terylene suit.
We would leave the cloth to be stitched and walk back to our home. I would take as many “Leers” as I could for my doll. Perhaps it was a good riddance for Darjin Massi as she had to dispose of all those in some other way.
I wondered why Amma had to walk to Laddakhi mohalla taking all the trouble of crossing the wine shop… Why didn’t she go to some other tailor shop which were so abundant in the Lower Bazaar and Middle Bazaar? I learnt it eavesdropping on gossiping women of the mohalla when they heartily talked without inhibition when men folks were away to work!
Many other women of our neighborhood would have their fine suits stitched by a tailor but it would preferably be a woman tailor. If somehow, sometimes, someone would go to a man tailor….all those Massis of my mohalla would be so inquisitive to find out how closely the tailor put his inch-tape to take the measurement of the upper part of a woman’s body….the word used was “Chhaati” a neutral word for chest of a man or a woman!! And all those Massis would giggle in a mischievous way if someone said, “Minjo badi sharm aayee!”
I grew up learning that there was something to be ashamed of having a grown bust and to have a tailor master take your measurement was almost sacrilegious.
But then all the tailoring shops on the posh Mall, the humble Lower and Middle Bazaar had men as tailor masters. Not only this, all these shops, very proudly, displayed at a prominent place, a number of blouses hung one over the other in a way that displayed the upper portions to full glaze of everyone! Some were sleeveless, some with deep plunging necklines and almost a strap at the back!!!
I would wonder how do they stitch these blouses to give such a bust-like shape to a soft Rubia material or do they stuff the blouses with something to give it this full appearance? Apart from that I would wonder about the bodies, with utmost feminine grace, which would adorn those blouses! And the how’s of the measurements taken for stitching those!!!
As almost all the tailoring shops were small with so many tailors sitting inside a small space, there would be little space inside the shop for the tailor master to take measurement for a stitching assignment.
And watching women who stood there putting there dupattas on one side and the tailor master taking the measurement would make me remember all those giggles of those Massis in the humble mohalla of Lower Bazaar of Simla in the Sixties! I would think…”These are the women going to the Greenroom, the Davicoes, the winter carnivals and the beauty pageants….wearing those blouses with matching chiffons, georgette or silk sarees….soft and satiny to touch!!!
Growing up in this way where one would become conscious of ones body …not even our own body but that of other’s as well…we, the kids of Lower Bazaar of Simla in the Sixties developed our own concerns regarding sensuality and sexuality. When on one hand I would be finding nothing unusual in women of my humble neighbourhood avoiding a tailor master as he happened to be a man….on the other hand a few stairs up…the Mall opened up the vistas of a free and open world. ….a dream world!
The black and white photographs of beauty pageants, the photographs of carnival, the dancing couples in the Davicoes that we only could imagine of, if we could peep from the gaps in the curtains….. But this world of sensuality opened up an image of a world…different yet exciting…..that we, the kids of Lower Bazaar, dreamed of and attained,!!!
We were not a part of this world but there was nothing to stop us from accessing that world… If only one wanted to….one day!!! That was the beauty of growing up in the narrow lanes of Lower Bazaar of Simla in the Sixties…..for a dreamy eyed girl!!!