I remember a time when new clothes were bought three times a year: in the summer holidays, for Deepavali and on birthdays.
Readymade was unheard of then. My mother used to make some of our clothes, and some – including plain white poplin bloomers, no fancy stuff – were made by the tailor who lived near my grandparents’ home in Madras. We would come there from Bombay in the summer holidays, and the new clothes added to the heady excitement of meeting uncles, aunts, cousins, Chakravarti the cook, beloved of us all, the grandparents, great grandparents and cows, hearing stories from the elders, playing in the large garden, climbing trees, plucking mangoes, community bathing in our underwear in ice cold water drawn from the well… I don’t know if our children had it quite so good. For one thing, there was no large band of cousins. For another, they were more supervised. Not as closely as kids are these days, but some. We were so wild, it was a miracle we all survived. My brother drove a car into a lamp post when he was seven. The whole lot of us would literally shock ourselves on a live wire in the grandparents’ garage. We ran along the streets of Bombay chasing kites. We all got regularly bitten by cats, dogs and squirrels. I don’t think our kids had these opportunities to kill themselves – or maybe they’re just not telling.
To get back to the new clothes: I remember especially the ‘twinkle nylon’ frocks that my mother made for my sister and me. A shiny burnt orange colour, they must have been perfectly hideous, but to us they were a cherished dream come true.
These days there’s no sense of occasion to buying clothes. We just buy them when we want or need them. What reminded me of the way it used to be is this: the trees all around have been putting off their old clothes, as they do regularly in February-March, and donning new ones. What a glorious celebration! And, when you think about it, what an amazing feat to pull off! Shedding a truckload of leaves and pulling chlorophyll out of thin air to create a whole new beautiful covering – all in the space of a few weeks.
Each one could be a fashion plate, making its own statement. Here are some of them.