My childhood was awesome, and then some. We were a piece of the big mass of the great Indian middle class. But the two frocks was more my Dad’s idea of what girls should be wearing in the 70’s. We were not poor, we always had plenty to eat, a roomful of books ( a household where books were a preferred choice than any other gift), holidays ( no, not to Singapore and Malaysia, but more like Bhopal, Osiaji and more local flavored places). Bengalis buy their new clothes during the once-in-the-year phenomenon called Puja. My mom, as usual, never had a say in the important matters of the family like what should I wear during the 5 days.
So, our standard process started with me sitting pillion on the cycle, and my dad, driving laboriously to our favorite seamstress, somewhere between B road and A road. He would stop outside her home and shout, Seemaji! at the top of his voice. She would come out looking terrified. Now, I must tell you something about her. She was very prim and proper, hair tightly wound in a bun, possibly widow or unmarried, never smiled, wearing faded cotton salwaar kamiz. You get the drift. Once she came outside, dad would ask her, pointing to me, how much material for her frock, she would look up and down at me and mutter some meters and then we would cycle down to NTC shop.
All brands, as per dad, were चोर and bigger brands महाचोर. So it was always NTC. He asked me to choose the cloth for my frocks, and I would pick from whatever little options I had. Then back to the seamstress. She would take measurements and then ask me for what kind of design I wanted. Now I was pretty unimaginative where fashion was concerned. Not having any access to magazines, no TV at that time, only idea I had was by reading books, Victorian books. So my choices were typically over sized, high neck, full sleeves, a lace here and a lace there, at least 4 inches below the knees, belts and frills in weird places. She also added some ideas from her minimal small town marwari experience and what evolved was something pretty OK, but then there was no other choice. And those few dresses had to last me for the full year till it was time for the next Puja again.
Now, since I had limited wardrobe, my attire at home was mostly a गंजी and bloomers, or frocks from past years which had moved above the knees and therefore, not suitable for public viewing.
I was into Athletics in school and was expected to wear something called shorts, which my dad would never never buy for me. When my sports sir told me, wear shorts and come to the ground, I went in my bloomers and he promptly sent me back home, he was more shy than I was. So, to find a jugaad solution, my brother’s old faded Mahesh school trousers came to the rescue, which fitted me perfectly and just needed to be made short enough to qualify as shorts.
As I grew older and started getting a monthly allowance, I started exploring other avenues like Bombay dyeing. And a tailor called Verma tailors who was the one person everyone went to in our town.
I had no exposure to readymades, jeans or trousers, national or international fashion, something which you may find hard to believe. Thanks to my bro, when he started working in Bombay, that is what it was called then, he started bringing me back stuff from fashion street. So in high school and college, I had a wardrobe with little more variations. I still remember my first and only vanilla jeans, that lasted all through my college years. I had a dreadful time with the zip that insisted on opening every time I would sit till I learnt by accident how to lock it. That was a problem that could not be shared with anyone, save my dad, who just told me I was too fat to fit into it.
In school, I also learnt to sew as part of the optionals and enjoyed it so much that I started experimenting on myself. Yes, I sewed my own clothes for a few years, frocks, tops and the likes. I was absolutely not great at it, just about passably ok. But I did get a little more variety, my own designs, now with buttons, and elastics, and embroidery, which was the fundamental idea.
My best friend gave me some exposure as she had relatives in Australia and my God, when I saw some of her stuff, carelessly thrown in the almirah. The material, the fall of the frocks, with my eyes wide open I would try some of her stuff, close my eyes, and feel like a fairy.