DANUSKA DA GAMA | NT BUZZ
He thought he would work until he could or till his last for Wendell Rodricks, but 2020 had a different plan for his boss and for him.
“2020 has been a disastrous year for me. My boss died first, then the pandemic forced me to do something on my own, and now I have to manage my family and livelihood without anyone’s support,” says Tosif Alam, who used to work under the late fashion designer for 22 years. However, as the pandemic hit the economy hard, the company was forced to shut down leaving Alam in a lurch. It was then that Alam decided to use his tailoring skills to help him sustain by starting Afreen Fashion House, in a small rented shop in Mapusa Market.
“What else could I do? I had to think of an option as the company was shut and for three months there was no income. I have three children to look after,” he says.
A native of Bihar, Alam arrived in Goa along with his brother, 22 years ago. Having initially run away from home to the army camp where his brother was working, they then went to Delhi before coming to Goa in 1998 when the late designer established his company here. Alam began as an assistant cutting master and as Rodricks’ company grew, he grew alongside.
“Boss taught me the finer details of getting a garment ready. He had a lot of patience and treated all of us as his family and not just staff. From sitting and sharing meals with us to being around us explaining the design in detail, over and over again till we understood, he was the best to work with,” says Alam.
And he has had many memorable times during his stint with his late boss including getting the chance to travel by air, something he never imagined doing. “Boss got my passport done within 10 days and took me for a show to Qatar. I got to see several stars I watched on TV. In fact, Rekhaji held my son in her arms long ago. I even saw Malaika Arora,” he says.
He also adds that on several occasions and shows in the past they (he and other staff) would get excited at seeing celebrities, but would feel awkward to approach them for photographs. Also initially, until a few years ago, he didn’t have a smartphone. “So we would just do our work and look around at the glamorous world,” he says. He tells us that during his 22-year stint with Rodricks, there would be errors while cutting for a design conceived and Rodricks wouldn’t yell. “Instead, he would say: ‘never mind and get going with the design’,” recalls Alam.
In fact, says Alam, he would sometimes wonder how boss came up with something ‘hatke’ but simple, in just single or dual colours. “His favourites were whites, off whites, black, yellow,” he says, adding that he still can’t believe that his boss is gone. “I feel him around me, everywhere, but he doesn’t talk to me and guide me,” he says.
Now, life has somewhat gotten meaningless, but he lives for his children who Rodricks loved. “I don’t want my children to become tailors. They have to do better than me,” he says. His elder daughter, Afreen teaches in a private primary school, while son Aman is hoping to land a medical seat. The youngest Arkham, says Alam, has time to decide.
As for his tailoring, Alam laughs and says that his designs have changed from simple and classy to even jazzy and gaudy depending on the demand. “I like working on western outfits and now at the shop I get all kinds of clientele,” he says. “I can’t say no, people get their own fabrics, and pay a heavy price for lace, but now that I’ve understood designing, I recommend designs, patterns, fabrics to suit the occasion, body type and personality. I am not a designer with a certificate, but can do a lot.”
Initially, however, most of the work he got was alterations. But then customers saw a photograph of his boss and two achievement awards presented to him for completing 10 years and then 15 years of service, which soon spread through word of mouth. “Luckily, I am blessed with work and people appreciate my work. With boss one garment would not be sold for less than `15,000 but sometimes it’s tough to now demand for `1500 or `2000 for an outfit,” he shares.
Wendell Rodricks’ company has been taken over, and a few tailoring staff including Alam have been called back to work in Panaji. “Let’s see, I will go there, but won’t give up my shop for who knows what the future holds,” he says.
And while he was always in two minds on whether to make Goa his home, now he believes, even though he has to move out from Colvale and search for a rented space, Goa has given him the best for 22 years. He found peace and happiness working here, and whatever happens…he will work in Goa.