Saturday, December 16, 2006

A cut above the rest

Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from Hindustan Times

Master tailor, Madhav Agasti, has the Who's Who of Indian politics as
his customers, not forgetting his clients in Bollywood

Shevlin Sebastian

One day, in 1985, director Shekhar Kapoor and producer Boney Kapoor
went to a tailoring shop in Bandra. They asked Madhav Agasti, the
owner, whether he could make an outfit for 'Mogambo', an international
crime lord, played by Amrish Puri, in Mr India. "They promised they
would pay me Rs 1000 extra if I could make a good costume," says
Agasti, 57, with a smile. "Shekhar Kapoor told me the story and
explained to me what type of villain he had in mind."
In order to give Puri a foreigner's look, Agasti studied pictures of
Lord Clive and some other lords of the British period. "I made a black
suit with a golden monogram," he says. Both producer and director
loved the costume, they gave him the Rs 1000, and when Puri wore the
costume, he immediately said, "Mogambo khush hua."
The shop, Madhav's Men's Modes, is nondescript: glass-paned doors, a
modest air-conditioned interior and fabrics in rolls placed on shelves
alongside one wall. You might not look twice when you walk past but
what is most amazing is that India's Who's Who among politicians,
ranging from L.K. Advani to Bal Thackeray have been his customers (see
list), apart from Bollywood notables and santoor exponent Pandit Shiv
Kumar Sharma.
Inventive skills
Sharma tells me he has been Agasti's customer for the past twenty
years. "Agasti stitches two types of clothes for me," he says. "On the
stage I wear silk kurtas with special embroidery. I leave it to him to
invent different styles of embroidery and designs, which look good on
the stage. His strength lies in the combination of colours and the cut
of the kurta." For normal wear, Agasti makes simple cotton or silk
kurta pyjamas. "He is a great designer," says Sharma. "After seeing my
clothes, people always ask me who my designer is and some of my
friends from abroad have got their clothes stitched by Agasti."
Another customer is State Finance Minister Jayant Patil. Just before
he was going to present the budget in 2000, his ministerial colleagues
told him he should get a nice suit and they suggested the name of
Agasti. "So I went to him and got a suit stitched," he says. "And I
must say, the fit was perfect." He has remained a regular customer.
Politicians have become very stylish these days. Praful Patil, says
Agasti, wears all kinds of clothes: suits, sherwanis and dhotis.
Sharad Pawar wears kurta pyjamas, as well as jackets or suits.
Nowadays, if they wear dhotis, they like to wear stylish ones. "The
reason is that they have to appear in front of television cameras and
need to look good," says the master tailor. "Society has changed.
People no longer want to see their leaders only wearing khadi."
For Agasti, what really makes him court politicians as customers is
that all of them are good paymasters and are polite and friendly. But
when I remind him the public has a negative impression of them, he
replies, "Look, I have nothing to say about what the public thinks. My
interactions with them have always been good."
So, how did it happen that so many powerful people have become his
customers? He says it was word of mouth. The first politicians he
stitched clothes for were N.K.P. Salve and Jawaharlal Darda, both of
whom were from Nagpur. They then spread the word and Agasti's customer
base grew slowly. "I also have a deep belief in God," says Agasti.
"And that helps."
His wife Mrunal says that it has a lot to do with his nature. "Madhav
is a friendly and down-to-earth person," she says. "And, one must not
forget, he is a skilful tailor."
Making his name
Agasti was born in Nagpur, the son of an impoverished temple priest.
When he was in college, he developed a passion for tailoring. He came
to Mumbai in 1974 and became an assistant in a shop, Super, where most
of the Bollywood stars would come to get their clothes stitched.
There, he met many actors including Sunil Dutt. "He was a favourite,"
says Agasti. "He helped me a lot."
It was a hard time, remembers Mrunal. Agasti would go by 8am and
return only at 10 pm on most days. "We were in economic difficulties,"
she says.
The next year, Agasti opened his own shop in Dadar and began stitching
the clothes of many character artistes and villains like Gulshan
Grover. After ten years in Dadar, he moved to Bandra, where he has
been ever since.
Interestingly, nobody of the second generation comes to Agasti's shop.
"It is a generation gap," says Agasti's son Shantanu, 25, who runs a
designer store, with elder brother, Rahul, in Juhu. "Quite a few of
the sons have studied or travelled abroad, therefore, they are aware
of the latest fashions." He mentions the names of Vishwajit Kadam, son
of Minister for Co-operation, Relief and Rehabilitation Patangrao
Kadam and Amit Deshmukh, son of Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh.
But it does not matter at all for Agasti. "I am happy with whatever I
have got so far," he says. "No complaints at all."

The political crowd
L.K. Advani
Bal Thackeray
Uddhav Thackeray
Gopinath Munde
Yashwant Sinha

Five chief ministers
Sushil Kumar Shinde
Sharad Pawar
Vilasrao Deshmukh
Narayan Munde
Manohar Joshi

Om Puri
Nana Patekar
Paresh Rawal
Gulshan Grover
Johnny Lever

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Heart of stone

Permission to republish this article has to be obtained from Hindustan Times

Living in Mumbai can take its toll

Shevlin Sebastian

I am travelling on a train, from Mahim to Andheri, standing behind a group of men at the entrance. The sun has set, a summer breeze is blowing in and the mood is tranquil. The evening rush has not yet begun, so there is some breathing space.

Suddenly, there is a thudding sound, and the next thing I know, the man in front of me starts bleeding from the mouth. A stone has ricocheted from the side of the train and hit him. The man, in his early thirties, with close-cropped black hair, takes out a handkerchief and presses it to his mouth, as his teeth turns red.

“You are lucky, the stone did not hit your eye,” says a fellow passenger. “Some years ago, a girl lost her eye. The newspapers wrote about it.” Says another man: “The stone was thrown from the jhopadpatti.” We look back at the fast-receding slum and, as expected, the place looks harmless. “I thought people had stopped throwing stones,” says another passenger. An elderly gentleman shakes his head and says, “Have people ever stopped throwing stones at each other?”

There is a silence after this statement. As for me, I try to imagine the person who perpetrated this dastardly act. What sort of a man is he? (Can’t imagine a woman doing this.) Why did he do it? What did he gain from this act?
People who travel on trains are not affluent; otherwise, they would have been moving around in cars. So why is he taking out his angst on us middle-class people? Our lives are a struggle, just like his: the harrowing daily commute; the ceaseless pressure to make ends meet; to keep wife and kids happy; to save money for our sunset years.

I can understand his frustration: the lack of education and job opportunities, the grinding poverty, the overcrowding and the pervasive atmosphere of crime and violence in the slum. But does throwing a stone at defenceless and innocent people help alleviate his problems?

Meanwhile, the injured man gets down at Bandra. Apart from the few people around the entrance, nobody else is aware of this incident. In Mumbai, you might be going through hell but the person standing next to you is oblivious. You can’t blame him: he may be staring at his own hell. For days afterward, I am wary of standing at the entrance. And as I watch people being rude to each other, at traffic signals, in the market, at cinema ticket counters and I also hurl a sarcastic barb at a friend, the old man’s phrase keeps popping up in my mind: “Do people ever stop throwing stones at each other?”