Clothes

My memory of buying clothes goes back to the vendor opposite my house in Sampangiram Nagar. The guy who owned the shop was Shanthilal. It was a small shop, with a counter in the front. He sat behind the counter, chewing his pan or a red stained mouth, from a pan chewed earlier. Everyday morning like an alarm, he opened the shop at the same time. He had hired a lady to sweep the front of the shop and draw a small rangoli. This lady was old and lived on the money she earned by doing menial jobs for others. She did this for some adjoining shops as well. She came home occasionally and my mother always fed her.
So Shanthilal opened the shop and sat there waiting for customers. Watching the inflow of customers to his shop and the other shops was an instant timepass for me. I just stood outside the balcony and watched the people who walked into his shop. Evenings were rush hours. He ended up buying the building with two floors above and three adjoining shops, which was a sign that his business was flourishing. The first floor was his residence and he rented out the second floor. When he went for lunch in the afternoon, his wife or son, Mahaveer sat at the counter.
My mother and I went to his shop once in a while to pick up some socks for my father, handkerchief, towels, or innerwear. The commodities in his shop were expensive, according to my parents, so unless it was really essential, we didn’t go in there. When we didn’t have the money to pay, he opened his big red book of accounts. There was a page for my father, and if we didn’t have money, he would add to the account. Usually we went with hundred rupees when our need was for two hundred.
Beyond his counter there was another room full of shirting and trouser material stacked against the walls. There was a hard mattress on the floor for customers to sit and select the fabric. It was a small room, maybe 8 ft by 8 ft. When he made enough money, he expanded his shop to the next room and started selling salwar kameez, sarees, dress material. Whenever we went in, he would ask my mother, ‘Thangam, saree dikhaoo, Indu ke liye salwar kameez, lelo..’ ‘Thangam, shall I show you some sarees, salwar kameez for Indu’. He was a true businessman.
My mother’s sarees were often bought by my father on some official trips he went to, Calcutta or Orissa. Occasionally they were from our family friends who owned a silk loom. But now, when I think of it, maybe she wanted to buy a few sarees from Shanthilal’s shop. I don’t know.
My father bought shirt material, maybe once in a decade from Shanthilal and always gave it to one tailor, all his life. He believed until recently, that those were the only group of tailors who could stitch his shirt and pant the way he liked them. He always had a maximum of three sets of shirts and pants.
My clothes and my brother’s came from Chellaram’s, once a year. I think it was for my 10th birthday, that Kids Kemp opened on MG Road. With all the advertisement for Kids Kemp, I forced my parents to go there for my birthday dress. I don’t know how heavy it must have been on them, but I remember feeling like a princess, in the red frock with white net all around. 
Buying the birthday dress was a family ritual and something I looked forward to. Before my birthday or my brother’s we took an auto to Chellaram’s. After a lot of searching, I almost always settled on a yellow dress. First they came as frocks, then skirts and blouses, and finally when I was in pre-degree, jeans and blouse.
As I entered college, the salwar kameez came from the inner streets of Commercial Street. They were always too big for me, blame it on my miniature form. They never made clothes in petites those days, it was all free size, atleast the ones you got from the bylanes of Commercial Street. For t-shirts and pajamas to wear at home and hostel, we went to Burma Bazaar. Not inside the bazaar, but the vendors on the streets around Burma Bazaar.
As my income grew, I exercised more freedom in the clothes I bought and their price. About three years ago, I switched to Fab India, and that was a lot of freedom. The most fulfilling experience has been buying clothes for my parents. Its not the arrogance, but the fulfillment, that life has come to a full circle in a little way.
Today, I shop from JC Penney or Gap or one of those shops. I can go there anytime I want and buy what I need. But the happiness of that one birthday dress, simply cannot be recreated.

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