I do not recollect the monogram not being on my blazer. It was always there like the stripes on a tiger. That analogy goes doubly well as a Tagorian (House Insignia is Tiger). As I push my memory now, two faces go flashing by, Seeraji & Shamimji. I am sure these are not their real and full names. But that’s what they were called. By everyone. Teachers, their peers, children and parents of children. In my case specifically, they knew me by a single name too, Mallick. Am damn sure, they didn’t know my full name or cared to know either. Predecessors in my family had set the stage on fire, burned it to ashes and rebuilt in over years and generations. Probably, that’s why the monogram was stitched in my memory long before it got to my chest on the left. I remember the monogram at various places in my house, in different variations – stuck inside an almirah’s door, hung on the side strings of a glass shelf, on chests of well ironed and folded maroon blazers inside iron trunks dating back to 1959, of my paternal aunts and uncles.
The way our support staff was with the children is understood and valued only after we leave campus. The people who were in the dormitory before children woke up and would leave only after lights went out. They helped bathe the youngest of us, polish shoes, oil our hair, dress and groom us, cook, clean and serve us in dining halls. Some of the younger staff was our sports partners while the older lot would coach from the sidelines. They cared, protected and fought for us, with people internally and out of town, unconditionally. Many of these always-happy-souls gave us life lessons which come to use till date.
Circling back to monograms and the two gentlemen above, there is a quick incident to share. Early 90s, double-breast blazers came back into fashion. My last blazer was the usual 2-button single breasted one, breathing its last few stitches from all ends. After multiple reminders and mother’s eternal warnings, he agreed to get a double-breasted blazer stitched for us. Yes, us. It was crafted of a size that would fit him perfectly during our winter holidays. He would wear it proudly on special occasions. Best part being it would serve me for the next 5 years till I passed out from school! The monogram used to be stitched permanently to the left chest pocket in blazers. But what can stop innovation and creativity? Metal pin buttons started being used for monograms so that school blazers can be worn as a civil dress coat. Mine was one such beauty!
Now, these two gentlemen were real charmers. They had their own kingdom, thrones and royal idiosyncrasies though. Seeraji was our dress designer-cum-fashion guru-cum-rescuer-cum-agony uncle in JS. Sudden parting of trousers/running shorts at the most inappropriate place and time, the L-shape ‘rafu’ across thighs and knee spots, the rock-hard woollen stitches to pullovers on elbows and the ever-mending shirt pocket getting torn on account of scuffles and fights, were taken care aptly by him in JS in his elevated wooden plank throne sitting comfortably outside the kitchen storeroom. Seeraji always had a smile on his face and a needle and thread on his sleeve. In senior school, Shamimji initially occupied the triangle room below the stairs of the dormitory. Later he had his huge wooden box placed in the corridor leading to then dormitory lavatory. Winter was spent spreading to-be-repaired clothes outside above the terrace library terrace, sitting leisurely and stitching old stories and fables into our uniforms.
During my monogram resettlement/exchange program, I was told by one of these two gentlemen, “Mallick, cloth and glass are so different and yet so similar. Glass panes are see-through and help us see things. Clothes are meant to hide/cover. But once ruptured, needs an artist to hide the cracks”. He went on to explain, “You all are growing kids. We know, not all of your parents can afford a change of uniforms every alternate term. Uniforms will get short. Some uniforms would fade at unusual parts/corners. We need to work out a way so as to ensure that none of you look out of place or feel awkward among friends. Most of all, we need to try reducing the dreaded interaction when your matron, class teacher or house master points out your shrinking, fading and quickly-getting-useless uniform to your parents and they getting short of words and feel embarrassed. Mind it, the teachers are not at fault. It’s their job to create gentlemen and dainty young ladies out of you hooligans! So, that’s where we try to do our job and mend some cracks. You see, we are not just tailors.” I can only create an echo now in my mind, “you are artists.”
Our monogram says, Tamso Ma Jyotirgamay. Some of these artists have stitched such tight knots around us, no darkness seem to endanger our lives.
– Kanishka Mallick (1996)
This piece was shared by Kanishka Mallick on February 08, 2021 via a personal message.