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Ladies Tailor is a tale of triumph of human spirit

Ladies Tailor is a tale of triumph of human spirit

Ladies Tailor by Priya Hajela. HarperCollins. Pages 302. Rs 399



Aradhika Sharma

The partition of India and Pakistan is a recurring theme in the narratives by Indian authors who revisit the cataclysmic time when a population living in harmony was divided into two. Transmigration caused loss of homes, friends and family, and people become refugees in their own country. As they searched for new means of livelihood, many of them were forced to live in overcrowded and shabby camps.

Yet, in the bloody shadow of Partition and even while carrying deep wounds caused by violence and fear, the sturdy entrepreneurship and never-say-die spirit of the Punjabis prevailed. Their determination, energy and labour helped them start afresh, often making their new businesses a great success.

‘Ladies Tailor’ is the story of one such person uprooted by Partition. The novel begins in Lahore, where we find a young and strapping Sardar, Gurudev, trying to convince his parents to travel east from Lahore into India. Marauding and bloodthirsty mobs romp the streets, killing and destroying senselessly, filling him with fear for their safety. However, refusing to believe that people from their ancestral land could cause them harm, the old couple prefers to stay. Gurudev migrates to India to find temporary shelter at the Kingsway refugee camp in Delhi. The family was destined never to be together again.

‘Ladies Tailor’ is a story of disruption and reconstruction. Established patterns and relationships are lost in the chaos but relocation gives rise to new habits and friendships. Gurudev loses his dearest ones but finds new comrades, fresh opportunities, and abiding love.

Unexpectedly, he partners with Nirmal Singh and Sangat Singh in a business selling women’s garments. Gurudev, who owned a flour mill and an oil press earlier, becomes an expert in fabrics, embroideries and cuts and fits of ladies’ salwar-suits.

Love happens when he meets Noor, a beautiful, enterprising Muslim girl, who arrives as a customer but willingly joins in expanding the tailoring business. From making simple khadi kurtas, the motley group expands to readymade garments. Yet, they aspire to cater to the taste of the “finer ladies” with garments made of expensive fabrics and intricate embroidery. To bring this to fruition, Gurudev and Noor must foray into Pakistan and bring two embroiderers to India. It is a cathartic journey for Gurudev, who ultimately lays the demons of Partition to rest.

‘Ladies Tailor’ is about making the best of abysmal conditions and conquering them with work and enterprise. It celebrates the unvanquished spirit of the Punjabi refugees, who, using their skills and energy, made a success of their business. Fairly linear in narration, it is a feel-good read that celebrates the human spirit’s victory in the face of terrible odds.


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