The book “Ladies’ Tailor” by Priya Hajela is a story of Gurdev and his cohort, a group of refugees who travel east from Pakistan after Partition. It is a tale of falling apart and coming together as the world burns around them.
Will Gurdev be successful in his new business of making garments for women? Will he find love after his wife and children leave his side? There may be uncertainty here, but there is also relentless hope.
Journey back in time and experience the refugee spirit as this book captures you with all its romance, adventure and one man’s iron will to not just survive, but to thrive with new beginnings.
Read an excerpt from the book below.
Simrat sat in her verandah as she watched her husband lock down for the night. She felt something for him, but it wasn’t love. Obviously, women didn’t marry for love. She knew that. Women married men who could take care of things. Many men in her village looked like they could take care of things, but when the time came, they did nothing. She had met Gurdev when he had come to work on her father’s farm. She had noticed him because he was big and determined. She saw purpose in his stride and in his work. She liked people with purpose. Her father had suggested a match to save on dowry and because he too liked Gurdev, who looked like a drifter, a migrant worker but whose grime was only skin deep. Gurdev was not coarse in his language or messy while he ate. He didn’t scratch his balls as he walked along or stand by the side of the road, in open view, to urinate.
Simrat was a tall woman with square shoulders, not gaunt but with edges. She didn’t get her shape from her short and round mother. She was flat, front and back, like a narrow twodimensional animated rectangle with a small head perched on top. Her face was typically Punjabi, symmetrical, and the only part of her body with curves. It was heart shaped, with a slightly upturned U-shaped nose and large round eyes. Her upper lip and lower lip were roughly the same size and perfectly centred. Despite all that symmetry, it was not a pretty face. But it was a kind face, one that you would want to tell your story to. Her gait was brisk, her voice firm but not loud. She sounded like a patient schoolteacher and, when she was being nice, like a gentle buffalo whisperer. At heart, she was a good person, not selfish or self-absorbed but looking outside of herself to understand the world.
Simrat watched Gurdev tie up Ruby, the buffalo, in her stall and cluck to the chickens. Gurdev had named the buffalo. Fortunately, he hadn’t named the chickens because he would kill them when they stopped laying. When the time came, he chopped the bird’s head off its neck and watched it run around headless, blood dribbling out of the cavity, not like a fountain, more like a faucet turned on a little. Simrat had always thought it was a story, that a chicken runs around without its head, but she had seen it so many times now that she had to believe it. The Muslim butcher in town did it differently. He made a small slit in the chicken’s neck and hung it upside down to let the blood drain out. She had seen the chickens hanging this way outside the shop. She bought those chickens when none of their own was ready for slaughter. The meat from home chickens was tough and old, but the butcher’s spring chickens were what her boys liked.
Simrat liked that Gurdev took care of things. She depended on him, maybe too much. She knew he didn’t think much more of her than a woman whose job it was to birth children, cook and clean, and do as he said. It made her angry, but she kept her anger to herself. She had a problem with her temper from when she was a child but she had learnt to suppress her impetuous streak and go along. She had learnt to grind her teeth and go along. She had learnt to clench her insides and go along. And after her marriage to Gurdev, all she did was go along. He didn’t like disagreements, and he didn’t like it if she had an opinion.
It was 3 June 1947. They had both heard the news on the radio earlier that evening. The whole village was talking about it. The British were dividing up their country. Sukho was a revolutionary village. It had sent many young men to fight for India’s independence – Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus. They had all gone, together. It was mostly a Sikh village but with a lot of Muslims and few Hindus. The villagers had never before considered these fractions but now they were speaking in factions. The Muslims gathered under the banyan tree, the Hindus sat by the Tulsi plant outside the temple, and the Sikhs gathered in the fields, amid tall stalks of sugarcane. Everyone wanted to know how the lines would be drawn. Everyone wanted to know what would happen to them.
Simrat had a knitting group, they met every now and then, depending on whose husband was travelling out of town and whose mother-in-law was too sick to care. It was a mixed group, all religions, because everyone was always knitting something – sweater vests for their husbands or booties for newborn babies, warm inner banians for young children or mufflers for fathers-in-law. They exchanged patterns and helped each other with the complex ankle curve on baby booties and on cable patterns that twisted and turned on the fronts of grown men’s sweaters. Mostly they drank tea, gossiped about everyone who wasn’t there and, nowadays, about what was going to happen to them all.