Mandvi, Gujarat 2010.
India is a country of workshops. Most Indian ladies buy fabric and get a tailor to make up garments specifically for them rather than buying ‘ready made’. I decided to follow suit.
On the recommendation of our guesthouse manager I went to look for “Bandhej” a shop well known for it’s bandhani or tie-dye fabrics – a speciality of the area. Tie-dye is a simple but time consuming process. Material is folded in half several times until it becomes a small square or rectangle. A design is then marked on the cloth using a wooden block. A bandhani crafts person, who purposely allows the thumb and forefinger nail to grow long for use as a pair of pincers, ties the marked areas into tiny knots. The motifs (indicated by the block) are tied with thread so that this part of the fabric retains its original colour. The material is then dyed. The material can be tied and dyed several times to introduce different colour . Finally the cloth is washed to remove any colour impurities and the knots are removed to reveal the pattern.
Looking for “Bandhej” was like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Narrow winding alleys and a profusion of tiny rabbit-hutch-like shops and stalls selling everything a person might (n)ever need: plastic combs, coloured kitchenware, padlocks, fruit and vegetables, sweets, chapati griddles, sarees and kurtas, jewellery and suitcases. It was impossible to tell where one bazaar started and another ended. Kansana Bazaar, Sangara Bazaar, Mochi Bazaar, where was Khatri Bazaar? We asked and people pointed – it was always just around the next corner. Finally, a man stepped out of his shop, slipped on his chappals, walked a meter with us and pointed to a fabric shop. There was no sign in English, just a man beaming when I asked if this was “Bandhej”. Shelves and shelves of material, sorted according to colour were folded into neat piles. Each pile contained three pieces needed to make a kameez (tunic), the salwar (baggy trousers) and a dupatta (long scarf). The owner began pulling out reds and pinks, but I settled for a light smokey grey blue, edged with a deep navy – a reminder of the sea in Mandvi. I paid Rs. 300* and asked Mr. Vahab if he could recommend a tailor.
His assistant lead us to the tailor’ shop – taking us on a ‘short cut’ through ever smaller passageways and the courtyard of a house. The women waved, and the men stopped their dying work to ask where we were from. Somehow this lead to a discussion about cricket! We extricated ourselves and popped out of the courtyard like corks out of a champagne bottle, landing on the tailors doorstep. His shop was the size of a postage stamp, crammed full of finished garments, snippets of material, magazines, and sewing paraphernalia. Jim sat on a bench, opposite the old fashioned Singer sewing machine, I stood, and the assistant waited on the street. Communicating with hands, thumbs and feet we established the length of the kameez, whether it should be fitted or loose, long or short sleeved. The shape of the neck was more difficult. We hit a wall, until the tailor had a brainwave. He turned to a shelf behind him, picked up a huge pile of patterns and threw them with a flourish onto the minute counter at the back of the shop. He suggested, and I pointed to something I liked. Bingo! Flicking his tape measure expertly he took bust, hip, and waist measurements, being ever so careful not to touch me. The whole procedure lasted about five minutes. The tailor and the assistant had a lengthy discussion and when they’d got the English clear, it was agreed I could pick up the finished garment on Monday at 6pm. The cost would be Rs. 100.
A set of new clothes and a unique experience – and all as cheap as chips!