Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Memories: Soochi Varkey Chettan to Ravi - the Tailors of Olavipe.

Among the gifts that I received for my last birthday was a nice Nike yellow T-shirt. Recently when I wore it with a pair of khaki pants my mind went back about sixty-five years, to a boy going on eight. I could see myself again wearing a smaller version of the T-shirt tucked into brand new khaki short-pants. A bamboo stick was my sword and I was fighting the army of arrowroot plants that cropped up at random in Olavipe.

The attire was a dream one for me. During holidays at Peruvanthanam (near Peermade) I used to watch with admiration Kunjappu Achan (Chacko A. Kallivayalil), Ammachi’s second brother, leaving for the family estates clad in white shirt, khaki pants, khaki stockings, brown shoes and a pith hat. Now I was dressed almost akin to him and felt proud about it.

The memory of that event made prompted me to write this piece. Soochi (needle) Varkey (Malayalam version of George) Chettan (a respectful salutation to elders) was probably the first tailor of Olavipe. He was my grandfather’s contemporary. I remember him vaguely - shaven head, wearing a dhoti (no shirt), a thorth (thin local towel) on his shoulder, and a scapular around the neck. It was said that he always carried needle and thread and thimble in the fold of his sarong at the waist.

I wonder what he used to stitch. His generation didn’t wear shirts. Even my grandfather didn’t. At Olavaip, trousers were seen only when an occasional sahib called on grandfather. Appan’s clothes, at least when he went to St. Albert’s School and Maharaja’s College at Cochin, were made by Newfield of Broadway, By Appointment Cutters and Tailors to His Highness The Maharaja of Cochin.

Varkey Chettan's son, Kochu, followed the same profession, but was called ‘thayyalkaran’ (tailor). For some reason, Kochu shifted to Thycattussarry. Kochu’s son John was my classmate. He obtained a white-collar job. One of John’s sons was ordained a priest.

Currently there are several tailors in Olavipe. But the family’s tailor now is Ravi, late cook Govindan’s son. He is intelligent and grasps instructions quickly, has a sense of fashion, and excellent in stitching from patterns. I don’t think anybody calls him ‘tailor’. Quite rightly too, because he is a jack of all trades. He is the only man in Olavipe, as far as I have seen, who walks fast and purposefully. Amazing, considering the fact that twenty years or so back the doctors had pronounced him a terminal cancer patient!

But the man who made the short pants that I wore sixty-five years back was Ponnakkeri Pappu. He was the family tailor for decades. Later on he started a textile shop at Poochakkal and did well for himself.

Pappu’s smile was like a splash of sunshine. It seemed to say, ‘I’m happy to see you, to be with you, to listen to what you say’. It was something that came from the heart. Whenever I think of him the smile is what I remember most.

Once as I was walking home after Sunday mass Pappu happened to be walking beside me. When we reached the gate I asked him to come in. He was served breakfast and I sat with him. It was, I’m sure, the first time that he had a meal sitting at the formal dining table of the house. He was obviously touched by it. While taking leave after the meal he tried to smile, but tears were rolling down his cheeks.

That was the last I saw him. He died a few months later.

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