The Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Hindu Jagran Manch tell women not to visit Kotdwar’s male (predominantly Muslim) tailors to give measurements... (News item)
This report led my thoughts to some Muslim tailors of Uttaranchal whom I have known. Those of us who came of age in the 1960s heard many partition stories. There was one which I often heard my grandfather repeat. It was about a Muslim from Rajpur, a village north of Dehra Dun, now almost part of the town. In my stock of stories, this one was registered as being about a rather warm-hearted tailor and a familiar figure, always greeting his visitors with an offering of elaichi.
The next part of it however was this: moving about in the Roorkee area after partition, my grandfather found some bodies being unloaded from a van for burial. As the next body was being taken down, he saw the arms outstretched, palms together as though in offering. Something clicked, he looked again. It was the elaichi man he had known in Rajpur.
The incident had left my grandfather shaken. He had not got over the shock of it in 15 years. It must have made some deep impression on the mind of a child, because nearly 40 years after having heard the story, I set out to find out a little more about the elaichi man.
I started by visiting the Doon Valley’s darzis (tailors). That was how I met Nazar Master.
Nazar, now 75, had come to Dehra Dun from Saharanpur as a young boy in search of work. He started in the 1940s as an apprentice with Maqsood Hasan Ansari, a tailor who had set up shop near the city kotwali in 1912.
The politically advanced Nazar joined in many nationalist protest demonstrations. Often he suffered British lathi blows in the Paltan Bazar. That was long before the cultural police of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its associate organisations had been heard of or imagined.
He followed in the proud tradition of the Valley’s handcraftspersons, many of whom had plunged into the struggle against British rule. Abdur Rahman, another freedom-loving darzi of Paltan Bazar, had been arrested in the civil disobedience movement of the thirties.
When Jawaharlal Nehru was imprisoned in Dehra Dun, his tailoring needs were attended to by Nazar’s ustad. That included a sherwani stitched in his shop. One of the difficult things to make, however, was Nehru’s Gandhi cap. According to Nazar, Nehru was particular about the cap’s length, angles, boat-like curves and the proper slope of its fore and aft.
When Maqsood Hasan took the cap to him Nehru was pleased. It had been done just right. Learning who had made it, Nehru asked to see Nazar. On his next visit, the ustad took Nazar along. The septuagenarian remembers the rupee and shabashi that Nehru gave him.
Nazar remained politically active and has seen transitions in the town — how several Muslims whose lives had been disrupted by partition were resettled with renewed hope, though many left for Pakistan. He worked closely with the Congress leaders of the time to banish fear and restore calm.
This process went on side by side with the home the town provided to the Hindus and Sikhs who had lost theirs in Pakistan, especially the North West Frontier Province and West Punjab. His face lit up when speaking of the visit of the Frontier Gandhi, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, to Dehra Dun in 1969. Having worked with the earlier Congress, he does not conceal his disappointment with what his party has done with its legacy. He was particularly disgusted with the permissive demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992.
And, of course, Nazar remembered the elaichi-offering man of Rajpur. His name was Mannu Shah and he was buried near Roorkee. What was he? A tailor or a dry fruits seller? Nazar could not say. According to him, Mannu Shah was a fakir, whatever else he may have been.
(The writer is a senior lawyer practicing at the Supreme Court. We are grateful to him for permission to print this piece here.)