Darzi Kaka’s Daughters

A hole in the wall shop in a crowded Indian marketplace where the tinkle of the silver jewellery was drowned by the high pitched calls of the street hawkers and the desperate honking of the scooters that struggled to pierce through a sea of pedestrians, Darzi Kaka’s tiny establishment offered some respite from the chaotic harmony of Chandni Bazaar with the continuous hum of his beloved sewing machine. His expertise in not just stitching but also in designing clothes was not an acquired skill, it was one that was embedded in his DNA. Just like the billboard in front of his dingy workshop declared, he was the great-grandson of a woman who had served various Mughal queens and princesses as their personal seamstress. Several tailors struggled to create ruffles and pleats half as spectacular as those displayed in Darzi Kaka’s store but as far as the art of tailoring went, Kaka’s finesse was unbeatable. There was no greater testimony of his competence than the fact that nobody knew him by his given name, just by the title of Darzi Kaka (Tailor Uncle).

Darzi Kaka believed that the invention of television was the most unfortunate event in the history of mankind. He scoffed at the unpolished designs worn by the heroines of the silver screen and was infamous for turning down clients who demanded replicas of the costumes from the latest Bollywood blockbuster. The girls who had grown up in the neighbourhood knew better than to enter his sanctum sanctorum with a magazine clipping in hand. These were the foster daughters of Darzi Kaka, whose hems he had mended on numerous occasions during their school days. Their parents may have raised them and fed them but Darzi Kaka was solely responsible for clothing each of these pig-tailed princesses. When the mischievous girls blossomed into young women, they began to grab the eyeballs of the loafers that sauntered through the streets of the market but in the eyes of Darzi Kaka, they still remained little children. Not once did his fingers slip while placing a measuring tape around their bosoms. To him his work was worship and there was no room for sinful thoughts in his profession.

So engrossed was Darzi Kaka in mastering the art of embroidery and darning that he failed to notice that while he was busy attaching lace to fabric, Chandni Bazaar was rapidly evolving to suit the needs of the residents of the buildings that had replaced the humble houses. What had once been a town of simpletons was now a sprawling city occupied by businessmen whose morning rituals involved showing off their fancy wheels instead of standing in queue for water. A majority of the market had moved inside the dazzling confines of a shopping mall but a few rustic shops still remained to cater to the needs of the young memsahibs when they craved for something traditional during the festive season. Darzi Kaka did not distinguish between these daughters of the doting upper class and the gullible lasses from several decades ago. Their immense wealth did not deter Kaka from offering them a lesson in the superiority of an original design over mass produced garments. These girls, however, were not as pliable as the stalks of the Malti flowers of Chandni Bazaar, they were tough like imported teak. To them, Darzi Kaka was not an artist but a servant who should dance to the hypnotising music of money.

One such girl was appalled by the insolence of the old, grimy tailor who refused to stitch a blouse as per her specifications. An ugly argument ensued, a clash of two egos that were equally resilient yet belonged to two people, two generations, and two schools of thought as different as could be. What started as an altercation between a stubborn tailor and an offended customer soon escalated and became a duel between two sections of society. Unwilling to be defeated by a “lesser” man, the girl decided to resort to a foul, age old trick. She stormed out of the shop and soon returned with a group of infuriated men, an army of citizens more than willing to defend a helpless girl who was caressed by the tailor on the pretext of taking her measurements.

As Darzi Kaka stared at these unfamiliar faces that were vandalizing his property and ripping apart the rolls of cloth, he realised that the world outside his shop had changed. Even before he could process this piece of information or could protest against the false accusations of his customer, he was knocked unconscious by an enthusiastic punch. His head hit the floor with a loud thud but the last sound he heard was that of the spinning of an unthreaded sewing machine.