Thursday, January 6, 2011

Coat, Pant and Kambal

The inside of the coat.
In autumn of 1989 my Bua's marriage had been fixed. I still remember the day, I hid under the bed while she served her would-be family tea and biscuit. Stars and planets were consulted, it was going to be a late summer wedding. She was finally married in a season that can't be called summer in the place called Jammu.

At the start of 1990 my father, never a formals guy, decided he was going to suit himself up for the wedding of his youngest sister. He was going to get himself a coat. So one weekend morning, he visited the family tailor whose shop was at a walking distance from the house, selected a fine navy blue suit. The tailor master had one of his assistants measure him up, marking the cloth with cryptic numbers using a piece of Rin soap.

'Keep it loose under the arm. Not too tight.'
Over the sound of sewing machines, surrounded in smell of warm cloth, buried under invisible shreds of thread, the Master replied, 'Don't worry it won't be tight. It would be perfect.' Master knew his art too well.
'When may I come to collect it?'
'Any time after two weeks.'
'Here's the advance. Khuda Hafiz.'


The coat proved to be a bit tight under the arm and the sleeves were an inch or two short.

The Tailor.
In 1997, for the new session my school suddenly decided to drop the old uniform code. Khaki was replaced by Grey. This was a setback. My parents had just got talked into buying two new Khaki pants for the next session by their son and they had, after much deliberation, agreed it was time for new. I had gone to a nearby tailor shop and a week later I got two fine pants. Those pants, even if in drab Khaki color, were top of the line, the kind whose crease always falls straight on the tip of the shoe and whose side pockets don't bulge out at the slightest pretence, and at 490 a piece they were even costly. I was looking forward to going to school in them. But then suddenly like life, like death, like revolution, like trath, like grey hair and not like art, not like birth, not like peace and not like grey hair - suddenly, by a decree from unknown, those pants were pronounced useless. Just like that. Their fate sealed in an old steel trunk. Now there was also the issue of getting new pants. More money loss. This was a catastrophe. I blamed myself. My parents blamed each other, they were still settling score over how much money went into building the new house, in what proportion, and how much from whose account, breaking which policy and bond and at whose risk. And so after this setback, not finding any convincing answers coming from each other, they gave each other the silent treatment. The treatment lasted for five years, in the fifth year, a period during which, in all probability, both forgot what actually had triggered this self-embargo, suddenly, or maybe slowly, both having grown lot more strands of grey on their head, hers gone all white and his whites finally showing up at the crown, one morning over a cup of tea, mutually decided through a good violent discussion that the treatment was obviously not working. They realized that having to carry stifled conversation in public as a social obligation while at home having to involve a third-party to even ask 'Where are the keys to the door?', all this was not working. While taking important family decisions together like 'Do we send them to a new school after their matriculation?', in conversations carried in third tense 'Temis Van-Whomis Van', the dramatic effect of looking up a wall or down at floor or conveniently at the television screen, it surely had lost its kick over the years and was now a laborious exercise. So suddenly, or rather slowly, they realized that they were stuck with each other, hopefully not for seven lives, only for this one, so let's get on with it.

'Pant Change' was the trigger. But in next couple of years things could have gone worse. Two years later I was dreading the coming of 'Coat Change' situation and all the things it will bring along. In Junior School the uniform code for blazer was Maroon, but once you moved to High school the colour that was expected of your blazer was blue. It was no surprise that the school was also into uniform selling business. 'Bunch of scam artists!' I kept reminding myself. I had no intention of buying anything from them. And after the previous showdown over uniform change I didn't know what my parent's reaction would be to the 'Coat Change' problem. I fretted over the problem much of summer, rains, some season that can't be autumn and then when the winters were about to start, the solution came to me. I got the Made-in-Chattabal coat.

The coat was delivered to my father in 1999. Tailor was one of the parties interested in buying the house. He had kept the coat with him, safe and packed in the shop, hanging in an glass windowed wooden almirah, for all those years and then when he managed to trace down my family in Jammu, through brokers, he sent over the coat, through an old neighbour. No way my father was going to fit into that any more, he handed it over to me and I saw to it that I fit into it. I wore it for two years, each day to school, sometime to weddings, till I passed my 12th. I came to like it. Just a bit tight under the arms and an inch or two short at sleeves. I still can't get myself to drop it into those 'Winter. Give you old clothes. To poor.' tin bins that sit cheerfully in a corner next to the glass door of a cafeteria in some corporate office. I can't even though I remember one winter standing in a long and brustling queue, holding on tight to my grandfather's hand as I didn't want to be the boy who gets lost in Kubh Ka Mela. We were waiting for our turn to collect a Kambal from a temporary relief center set up near a school. People had been generous with Kambaldaan that year. But I could never convince myself, that we actually needed that Kambal that year. Few could but the queue that day seemed unending. It seemed the entire humanity was there for the hand-out. For a piece of cloth.

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2 comments:

  1. A Poignant tale of coat, pant and kambal.... Really...loved this..

    ReplyDelete

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