"The Other Side of India", Opulence in Bombay, Part 2

Posted by Kitara Julian On 2:56 PM

1967: Two housekeeping staff knocked at the door of our “surprise” suite in the Taj Mahal Hotel. We learned they were to take our measurements. A female for my partner, male for me. Meanwhile, room service pampered us with delights of Indian cuisine, 5-star style.

We asked ourselves, “What’s going on”? Then a basket of fruit arrived with a card informing us that everything would be taken care of, all our meals and the suite. A few hours earlier, we’d arrived by train not knowing where we’d spend the night, looking like a pair of “vagabonds”. Next thing we’re rested, refreshed, bathed and, it appeared, about to get a new wardrobe. However, I did not shave my long beard!

Ah, The Taj Mahal Hotel, what a view! We thought we’d landed in Paradise.

Our suite faced the harbour and famous Gate of India, the granite arch 26 metres high.

The next morning the ex-Mayor’s chauffeur, “Sharma”, took us on a tour where we visited the extraordinary “Towers of Silence” and other landmarks. After a few hours, heat and humidity brought us back sooner than planned.

The phone buzzed. “Could Madame be ready the next day, for some shopping with Mrs? Yes, oh good, then we’ll pick her up at 10 am”. There was another call for me. “We have an appointment for you with a tailor, you’ll be fetched at 10 am.”

Next morning the limousine stopped some distance from the Taj, in front of an old building in a ‘down and out’ neighbourhood. Here is the tailor, sir, I’ll wait for you”, said Sharma.

A dark and smelly stone stairwell took me up to the second floor. A faded magazine clipping was pinned to the door, showing an English officer decked out in a fancy uniform with red tunic. Must be the tailor, I thought. Knocking, the door opened and a short, elderly man exclaimed, “Yes, yes, come in, come in, I’ve waited for you. I am tailor, very good. Make all uniforms, suits for British officers, long long ago”.

Then he took out a binder, blew away the dust, and proudly showed many uniforms he’d created in the far past. We make for you a Raw Silk jacket, and two pairs of white trousers, best material, no problem.” He measured me ‘by eye’, walking around, taking notes, then said to come back in the morning for a fitting. So that was that.

When I got back to the Taj, a card sat on the table, decal-edge, gold embossing. “You and Madame are invited to the wedding reception of our niece. It takes place at the Bombay Cricket Club, etc.” Meanwhile my partner returned with more clothes and presents from her shopping trip with our host’s wife. The phone rang. “Did we receive the invitation? Did you get to the tailor ok? Sharma will take you back tomorrow for the fitting. Are you enjoying Bombay?” I responded immediately, “Oh yes, very much!” But little did we know what lay awaiting. (To be continued). Signing off, Henri

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