Dressmaker to Royalty | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 30, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 30, 2010


Dressmaker to Royalty

Left: Mr. Zahed, Centre: Pori outfit ,Right: Mr. Nasir uddin

It was a hot afternoon on Lalbagh Road. The imposing wall of the Lalbagh Kella (Moghul Fort) runs on one side of this road; the opposite side, along which I was walking, is a row of shops and homes punctuated by alleys which always curved out of sight.
Camera in hand, I was searching for photo opportunities. Near the block's end I started crossing the road towards the Kella's ticket booth. That's when the shimmer of colour appeared against the wall, like a mirage in the distance.
I squinted, trying to identify the fast-moving orange and blue object. As it came closer, I discerned a bearded man wearing a bright satin gown. I approached him and reflexively took two quick pictures before resuming my walk towards the booth.
In five seconds my heat-addled brain kicked into gear. “Whoa!” it said, “What was that all about?” I turned and saw the man entering an alley. I followed him. Presently he stopped in front of a small shop.
I coughed. “Erm, unusual outfit...,” I said.
“Oh, we make them in this shop here.” Peeking in, I saw several sewing machines. Sparkling costumes of bright colours hung on the walls.
A younger man stepped out of the shop. He saw my puzzled face.
“We make clothes for royalty,” he announced.
“You don't say!” I replied.
He introduced himself as Mohammed Zahed, the owner. The other man was Mr. Nasir Uddin, who helped out and modelled the clothes occasionally.
But I was still baffled. “How does this business run? Who buys your clothes?”
“Jatra,” said Mr. Zahed.
“Ah, now I see,” I said. Jatra is a form of Folk theatre sprinkled with songs and dance. I was under the impression it had been wiped out by the influence of Bollywood.
“Oh no, there are many, many performances. Most are in winter, when I get most orders,” said Mr. Zahed, dispelling my doubts.
He showed me an outfit he was working on. It was for a fairy in a Jatra to be performed in Narayangonj. The wings were worn separately.
Mr. Zahed had trained as a movie costume maker. His passion is making fantastic outfits. For several years, he apprenticed under an Ustad in Dhaliwood (where Dhaka's movies are made.) Three years ago he started this business, employing two other tailors.
I asked him about his memorable costumes.
“Last Victory Day we had a Fancy Dress competition in Lalbagh. I made costumes for Radha, Anarkali, Raja (King), Ujir (Minister) and a Freedom Fighter. My King costume won first prize.”
Can he make costumes for others? Of course, he said. He needs a picture or a sample, and can work with the customer's material or get his own.
Hmmm. Perhaps now would be a good time to order that Batman costume I always wanted. Or maybe I should try my hand at Nawab Sirajuddowla instead!
(Mr. Zahed's shop is in Lalbagh Lane No. 8, near the Kella entrance.)

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