The Political Tailor
Tucked in a 15”x7” area in a dark dingy by lane leading from the main shopping area of Bhubaneswar’s Ashok Nagar, the city’s footwear hub, Girirdhari Barik’s Crown Tailors is an unlikely destination for one willing to stitch clothes. However it’s just the contrary for the who’s who of Orissa’s political camaraderie.
Its USP: Stitching kurta pyjama, which has found takers in Orissa’s political class, from greenhorns (ticket aspirants) to seasoned veterans, PRIs to Chief Ministers and union ministers. The list of Barik’s clients over 150 netajis past and present, cutting across party lines includes among others, Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, almost all of his party legislators, his ex-CM father Biju Patnaik, Congress leaders and former CMs J B Patnaik, Hemanand Biswal and Giridhar Gamang, former union ministers, Bhakta Charan Das, Kahnu Charan Lenka and the current union minister Srikanta Jena.
Barik has stitched clothes for second generation politicians too. Apart from Biju and Naveen, Barik, 52, has been a favourite of many like the late Basant Biswal, former state cabinet minister and a Congress heavy weight, and his Member of Parliament son Ranjib Biswal, JB and his son-in- law Saumya Ranjan Patnaik, Congress leader and editor of the largest Oriya daily, Sambad.
The customers are a happy lot. “I wear different clothes for different purposes. There is no particular dress that I wear always. But as far as kurta pyjama is concerned I generally stitch there,” former CM Giridhar Gamang says. “It’s a matter of liking. I like his stitching,” said a senior leader of Naveen’s ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD).
Barik fails to remember the politician he had stitched clothes for the first time. His associate from 1982 Somanath Sahoo recalls the year-1983—when it began. “One late summer evening Khadi Niketan’s (Bhubaneswar’s leading Khadi shop) owner, the late Kailash Chandra Sahoo called me to stitch for one politician,” Barik recalls. “He liked my stitching,” he adds.
Earlier, many netajis would come to his shop where Barik used to take their measurement. Today, except a few of the veteran leaders and the ones testing their luck in politics, Barik has to collect the measurements of leaders from their residence. To make it easier for him, of late, he has started using a mobile phone.
He may not have made it big, but surely recession hasn’t had any
impact on Barik. His shop had three workers when he began. Now it has six people working with him.
Recalling the tastes and styles of the various chief ministers he has stitched for, Barik says that, while the late Janata Dal maverick Biju Patnaik stitched 10 pairs at a go JB preferred to stitch 5-6 pairs at a time, the former liked to wear thick Khadi, but JB has been fond of Tussur kurtas. Hemanand Biswal liked simple cotton. Naveen’s kurtas, only a couple of them a year for the Boita Bandana festival (on the full moon day of the Month of Kartik to commemorate Orissa’s maritime trade with Java and Borneo in Indonesia) are made of Century mills’ cotton. While all these Chief Ministers past and present used to wear plain neck kurtas, Gamang is a connoisseur of bandh gala kurta (kurtas with collar). “Gamang stitches at least four times a year,” Barik says. However, stitching for Biju used to be a challenge for Barik. Tall with long hands Biju had different curves on his body. “Though I happen to be very careful while stitching for all, it required extra alertness while stitching for Biju Patnaik.” He remembers how during his last time chief ministership (1989-94) Biju Patnaik would call him to his residence and order for five new shirts, apart from doing alterations to the trousers he had bought from Delhi. Both Biju and JB would give five-six pairs stitching two-three times a year.
The sight of politicians attired in clothes stitched by him gives Barik the utmost satisfaction. He feels bad, if a client is defeated in the electoral battle. He has never approached any of them for any favour. “I feel that would strain my relations which would hamper my profession. One has to be absolutely straight with one’s clients,” is his take.
Its not been an easy journey for Barik so far. A decade ago, when fashion trends changed and readymade clothes invaded the market, many big-time tailors pulled their shutters down or changed to some other businesses. Barik didn’t. “Even though I was stitching all types of clothes, kurta pyjama were my specialty,” he says Barik. By his own admission, bulk orders are placed with him before elections and on the eve of Assembly and Parliament sessions.
Ironically, Barik himself had been a CPI cadre since 1974 and attended many meetings of the party in and out of the state, till 1982, when he opened the shop. “I had to opt out as for me the need of the hour was to earn bread and butter,” Barik says without any regret.
Son of a driver, Barik didn’t have the luxury of continuing his studies beyond fifth standard. “With the responsibility to contribute in providing two square meals for the family, I had to do whatever came my way. It was not a profession of choice. I took it as it seemed as an easy job for me. divulged” Barik who started working at the age of 13. He started as an assistant at the Fit Well Tailors—which subsequently closed down—in Old town area of Bhubaneswar before moving out of the state to Darjeeling in West Bengal. He worked there for over a decade and returned home. Having learnt the skill of stitching, Barik started loving it. With a smile he confesses, “Today I am obsessed with it.”
But, not his only son Gyanadeep, 24. Like Barik, the 24-year-old Gyanadeep, had a brush with politics too. But it was confined to college level elections. He had contested successfully in the college union elections and was elected the president of a city college. Again, like his father, his political association ended soon. But he was not interested in following his father’s footsteps. Interested to take up a carrier in computer hardware, he is happily settled in his profession. This, in other wards mean, Barik’s legacy would be inherited by one of his associates, like long-timer Somanath, lovingly called among the four workers at Crown Tailors ‘Chhota Master’ or the bulky, ever-smiling N. Ravana. Barik is not complaining either.
His only regret: spiralling inflation. “I used to charge Rs 135 for a pair of kurta-pyjama in 1982-83. Even then I used to save some amount. Now I charge Rs 350 for the same but hardly end up making anything. I can’t understand why it’s so.” Perhaps his netaji clients can make him understand about this.
By Debi Mohanty from Bhubaneshwar