Anjali’s uncle was in the far corner of his workshop, working on a garment of evident quality. Her uncle’s workshop had become the place where the highest quality garments were brought; those that were definitely worth the work of repairing and reforming for another existence. Her uncle, however, would always point out when the family gathered and remarked on his remarkable achievements in tailoring, ‘I still make most of my money by replacing pocket linings.’
Anjali knew better than to disturb her uncle when he was working on such a garment, until he was clearly ready to be disturbed. She waited at the workshop entrance until he had reached a point where the garment could be placed back on its mannequin. She walked past the cluttered benches, which had given her so much comfort as a child, and said quietly to her uncle, ‘I need to talk to you. I have some problems at Threads.’
Her uncle pushed several pins back into his pincushion, and then looking at Anjali over his thick glasses said, ‘Come into the office. We need to talk openly with one another.’
Once in the office, the door shut behind them, Anjali waited whilst her uncle searched for the right words, in the same way that he would search for the right needle for each tailoring job.
‘Panya has spoken with me about the difficulties arising from your work with the Wetledale Mill Manager,’ he said eventually.
‘I cannot work with Panya any more,’ said Anjali, with that same emotion that causes a reservoir to overflow its dam. ‘I want you to take her back. I need an assistant who will assist.’
‘Anjali you remind me of the river that flows beyond our factory wall. One day there is the calm sound of water flowing smoothly to the sea. The next moment we are rushing to get the expensive fabrics to the high floors in case that same river decides to flow right through our workshop, destroying everything it touches.’
He sat down so that the cluttered office desk now lay between them.
‘You are asking me to take an action that will lead to the damage of a good business that the family has invested in.’
‘The only question is whether Panya makes a good assistant at Threads,’ said Anjali before he could continue. ‘The business is successful. I made Threads a success before Panya was ever in the picture. Now she is there, and the business is pulling apart at the seam.’
Her uncle unfastened the pincushion that was still strapped to his arm, laid his glasses on the desk, and looked straight at Anjali.
‘Panya thinks that working with clients such as the Factory Manager will cause the very foundations of Threads to be washed away.’
He paused, perhaps for thought, perhaps for effect.
‘I think she is right,’ he said as definitively as a cross-stitch. ‘You force me to make a choice. I think Panya is right.’
‘You told me to find new markets, uncle, new things we can sell, and I have done that,’ Anjali responded with the same resolve.
‘A tailor must understand her tools, Anjali. You cannot embroider with a thimble. So what is Threads for?’
Anjali was about to answer, but he continued. ‘I will tell you what Threads is for. In this valley the climate is the enemy of clothing, and therefore the friend of the tailor who profits from opposing its cold and damp. That is Threads. That is all Threads is, and all it ever will be. Is that what you want, Anjali? To stay in this valley and tailor away the cold and the damp?
Threads is a humble alteration and repairs tailoring business. It is true that you established Threads; but you know, as I know, that you built Threads as a stepping stone that would take you on to other things.’
He rubbed his eyes. It had been a long day, and he could no longer see as clearly as he really needed to see.
‘Panya is a good worker,’ he said. ‘She will keep that business going. Panya is the perfect alteration and repair Tailor. She has an appetite for making bad things good and meagre things better.’
‘Uncle Arnav, you are supporting Panya against your niece.’
His tone changed, and furrows framed in his face like the ripples of a sharp wind on river water.
‘You do not know the contempt that I feel when I stitch the lining back on a pocket of a jacket that never deserved a hanger in the first place. I am feeding dogs. But, as you have seen, there is much money in dog food.’
His voice rose like the sound of a sewing machine whose needle has lost its cotton.
‘Your uncle Arnav does not want his niece to feed so many dogs.’
Anjali sat down at the other side of the table and stared closely at him, as she had once stared into the depths of the river in search of different answers.
‘Every person is the tailor of their own future,’ he said more quietly. ‘Will you forever stitch the past back together, or will you design a future that is worthy of you? Repair what has gone before, and the river of time will just sweep you away. Design great clothing and your influence will continue as long as the mountains still stand.’
He paused; and then his voice turned suddenly as warm as masala chai.
‘I knew we would arrive here someday. As soon as I first saw you working with damask. Repairs and alterations to garments; that was just a stepping stone for you, Anjali. The only reason that you ever collected those old and traditional garments was that they were pathways. You could see in them the pattern that would guide you to a different future in a different valley. I honour you for that Anjali. I faced the same dilemma in my own valley in Uttar Pradesh. Do you design the future, or do you repair the past? They are two different directions. Do you flow with the river, or do you sit on the boulders. I would not be your uncle if I did not tell you this. If you stay standing on those same stepping stones, in time the river will rise and drown you. You will be so unhappy that it will drown you.’
He was quiet for a moment.
‘A boulder exists to help you to cross the water. That stepping stone serves its purpose and then you leave it behind you. Time never tires and never slows. It forces you into a future that you must stitch together for yourself. There are fabrics that you must mix, and textures that you must design. If you are a tailor, be a tailor. If you are a designer, then you should be a designer.’
He looked straight at Anjali again; and she realised how rarely it was that he ever looked straight at anybody.
‘When I cannot decide on something, I have often found it helpful to let the river decide. When you next walk along the river, Anjali, look at your reflection in the water and tell me what it is that you see there. Do you see a tailor who stitches over the past, or do you see a designer who sketches in the future?’
‘Wait here,’ he said suddenly. ‘This is a moment that demands fresh masala chai.’
He returned eventually, setting two large mugs down on the table.
He looked at her through the steam rising from his own mug.
‘Our family has made garments out of richer fabrics with each generation. I am sure that the needle you are holding carries a thread that will take you forward to even finer fabrics.’
He took a sip from his mug, and it seemed to bring him new inspiration.
‘Did you know that most stars in the universe just turn out iron towards the end of their lives? It is only the greatest stars that make more precious materials than iron. And only the very largest and brightest of the stars of the sky that will come to weave gold in the end. I know you will weave gold, Anjali. But such a bright star should burn in a better valley than this.’