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Justice in Clothes

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A shop in Mumbai which tailors clothes for lawyers and judges turned 100 recently

A shop in Mumbai which tailors clothes for lawyers and judges turned 100 recently

Five generations of lawmakers have found justice in the finely-cut cloth stitched by the Dandekars of Girgaum in central Mumbai. Dattatre Dandekar & Co, tailor for judges and lawyers, turned 100 the day before Dussehra.

The space where the shop is located was first taken over by Sitabai Ramchandre Dandekar, who returned from Africa to India with her children to set up a general tailoring store. She named it after her five-year-old son and hired skilled workers. The fine handwork slowly began to attract solicitors and judges, many of whom lived close by.

Dattatre took over in 1924 and under his watch, the business grew. His son Narayan made the first real attempt to increase the value of the enterprise. “He did a diploma in tailoring,” says Anuja, Narayan’s daughter, who currently runs the shop. He also rode his bicycle to the High Court a few kilometres away to solicit customers, and walked to the nearby university to deliver convocation gowns. He studied the methods “Christian tailors used for their British judges”, Anuja says, and adapted their designs to India’s environment. The fold behind a senior English judge’s gown would drag were it not for helpers who trailed him. “My father made the fold shorter so that it did not touch the ground, and he cut the sleeves short.”

When he died in 1999, Anuja’s mother kept the store open, even as the family wondered what would happen next. The next December, assured of support by her IIT engineer husband, Anuja plunged into the business. “My father didn’t want me and my sister to work here or anywhere else. It wasn’t that he was orthodox. He just thought we should remain at home and enjoy life.” She giggles and adds, “He doesn’t know I’m here. But I wanted to see his dream, of this store turning 100, come true.”

Her first customer was a Judge Sharma from Nagpur, also her father’s last customer. “He encouraged me to build the business strength again.” He recommended her to a judge. It took off from there. In a typical month, the company makes 12 to 15 gowns and eight to 10 coats, although it varies according to the season.

“Now it’s the junior season, June-July is the senior season, and August is the judge season,” she says. Her customers know what they’re getting, she says, and don’t mind a two-month wait. Each gown takes four days to create, a task that requires a steady hand, concentration and patience. Once ready, she drags a trunk to the High Court, where some judges welcome their new clothes, and others remind her they’re still waiting. “Not the newer ones, though,” she says. “They like their Raymond’s.”