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‘Ladies Tailor’ Book Review: Re-Stitching Remnants of the Partition Through a Broken Refugee Spirit

Set against the backdrop of the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 and the Hindu Muslim riots that ensued soon after, Ladies Tailor is based on semi-autobiographical elements that draw from the incidents that actually took place in the lives of Hajela’s grandparents, Bakshi Pritam Singh and Beant Kaur, who had to leave their homeland in Harial, Gujarkhan (Pakistan), to start a whole new life in Ludhiana, Punjab (India). The plot revolves around the character of Gurdev, who is depicted as a brave, self-conscious, and determined individual. He is shown to be a part of a group of refugees who shifted from Pakistan due to the partition and its gruesome aftermath.

As a responsible family man and a caring person, Gurdev is worried, much like the others around him, about the consequences that may follow the partition turmoil and political unrest in the subcontinent. He makes a bold decision to shift his family to India for safety concerns and to seek some sort of secure future, if at all possible. However, keeping the context as the central focus, the book unveils the serious socio-economic and political unrest that affects the subcontinent on a large scale and also Gurdev on a personal level. He ends up being abandoned by his wife and also losing his two sons. The chaos of anti-Sikh violence and the pressure of a severe personal tragedy reveal the inner pain that Gurdev writhes through in the first half of the story as it pushes him to seek refuge on the other side of the border. The pain is magnified and noted with empathetic depth, which will make readers mourn along with Gurdev in the tragic agony of loss and loneliness. But life goes on for those who are left behind and have been given the chance to continue to live. Gurdev takes up his only resort of leaving his homeland, Sukho, Pakistan. In trying to seek fresh beginnings, Gurdev remodels himself as a ladies’ tailor and starts a new garment business in Delhi. While not actively looking for love and admiration in his new life, he resigns to his fate and accepts Noor, a lady from a different culture, as his source of comfort. She helps him to develop his business and brings in more business partners, which helps in funding, supporting, and taking his endeavors forward. Gurdev learns more about his new field of choice and also goes on an expedition with Noor to save two boys who do embroidery work in Pakistan.

This adds an element of adventure and brings forth a whole adventuresome side of Gurdev, who still thinks of others and their difficulties in these moments of being stuck in personal struggles. While the book has several minor characters, it is Gurdev who maintains the center stage and is always under the spotlight. In fact, most of the story is told to show the development of his life and his ability to face challenges by staying put in the face of unsurmountable difficulties. These allow us to portray him as a strong character, though he does have a softer side to his personality when he befriends Noor and gives the lighter side of life another chance. This shows his positivity and his ability to face the harsh realities of life but not run away from them. Instead, he uses his failures, losses, and difficulties to create a whole new world. He is not stoic and enhances the thematic significance of resilience, hope, and strength of mind. This makes the character of Gurdev a true leader with whom most readers will be able to identify. The other characters, particularly Noor, serve as foils for Gurdev. All minor characters help to take the narrative forward and increase its relatability with Gurdev, who is the protagonist and leads the story. It is his transformation, driven by his determination, courage, and resilience, that is a truly remarkable journey to note.

The emotional side of the tale is heart-touching and heart-wrenching too. The book does not exaggerate or underplay the myriad emotions that the partition of the Indian subcontinent evokes. Hajela creates a balance despite striking that tong of emotional turmoil that reverberates through thin air with the pangs of loss, hopelessness, and misery of Gurdev, as well as millions of people like him. Nonetheless, there is no sense of creating a biased narrative. She does not create metanarratives to fit into Gurdev’s narrative of loss. Rather, she portrays loss as a double-edged sword that affected people on both sides of the border. This makes the writing style rather mature, evocative, and expressive without creating any sense of overly emotional turgidity, which the character is unable to overcome.

It is the ability to weave together such tense emotional states at the same time within a span of about 300 pages of historical fiction that makes Hajela an author par excellence. The historical authenticity in terms of the places and locales that are mentioned, such as Model Town, Ludhiana, Ferozpur Road, etc., adds to the dimension of realism in this book. It makes the novel relatable and creates the feeling of being based on real-life incidents. The descriptions are vivid and rich in detail. In fact, the eye for detail that Hajela brings to the plot points to minute aspects that create the ambience that draws the reader and makes them want to soak up every single word. Some of the dialogues also create the same effect. They are heartwarming and help to break the monotony of the descriptive paragraphs by serving as explanations of situations that arise straight from the individual characters who are facing them. This makes the plot and the characters rather interesting. The book is moderately lengthy and engaging, and it will be of interest to readers who enjoy historical fiction. The book cover is creative, and though the title does not fully capture the essence of the book, it does raise the curiosity of readers.

Tasnima Yasmin
Tasnima Yasmin
Struck by bouts of bibliophilia several times a day, Tasnima can often be found between the pages of a book. She loves switching between book genres and can get terribly garrulous when it comes to discussing her recent reads. With an ever-growing TBR, she is frequently guilt-ridden at not being able to attend to all her book pals at the same time.


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