They were a slate grey pair of Lee jeans. This was 10 years ago. They were the classiest pair I’d ever owned. None of the airing the buttcrack, lowcut rubbish. Nor the crotch-grabbing ‘jeggings’ which appallingly find currency now. They were tastefully frayed at the edges, beautifully stitched seams running up the legs in charcoal grey thread. The pockets were elegant, forgoing the embroidered drama that played out on the butts of most jeans of the time. They fit like a dream. Snug around the waist, roomy for the bottom, and well-aired for my legs to breathe.
The first time I wore them was for physics tuition. In keeping with the post-class ritual, I went with the boys for some samosas and chai. Mehta was riding my blue Activa (plate no. 4900), I was riding pillion. Law College square, some sand spilled by a truck, a tad too fast on the brakes, and Mehta and I crashed down, skidding across the asphalt, Activa in tow.
First thing I check, naturally, were the jeans. A gash, almost surgical in its considered cruelty, ran across the fabric over my right knee. No other damage. Mehta was apologetic for having hurt us, but I was heartbroken for my Lees. A quick Dettol & bandage later (Mehta’s parents were doctors), I went home. Mum sensed the pall of gloom immediately.
The story was told, and she said, Cheer up! Rafoo kar lenge.
Rafoo? I asked.
Yes, like a patchjob.
It’ll ruin the jeans!
No, no, no! They use the exact same thread colour, and it’s quite well done.
I agreed, unconvinced. The same tailor who had made my school uniform three years ago gave it a casual inspection, and in three days returned the pair with such fine rafoo that from a distance you couldn’t tell that the cloth was once torn clean through. What’s more, it added quiet character to the pair – like a discreet scar that holds a tale but doesn’t attract too much attention to itself. Something that won’t be exploited for cheap conversation. I was very proud of that pair. They lasted a good five years.
I’d worn this exact model of sandals for over six years now. They had been my only footwear apart from house slippers and running shoes. So when I was not home and not running, I was in the sandals. This was last year. The first pair had served three years before disintegrating. This one looked good for a couple more years at least. The sole was wearing thin, and I’d had the mochi stitch the straps once. But like that rafoo job, this couldn’t be faulted. But when work took me home and Mum saw them, she insisted I throw them away.
Why? I asked.
Because they’re old.
I’ll get you new ones?
I don’t need new ones.
And so on. Their only fault seemed their age. Perhaps that the mochi had worked on them. Maybe more that. The fact that they’d been ‘repaired’. I let that one go, as one does with mothers, and got two new sandals in different styles, though I only use the one pair.
But the more I thought of it, I realised that the idea of getting things repaired has somehow fallen out of favour within the last decade. That somehow having something fixed got equated with extending its life beyond what was meant to be. Electronics were the first to go down this road, I guess. The first TV I remember having two decades ago still sits in my house, functional but in disuse. The Sony Trinitron CRT that replaced it proudly sported many a repairman’s sticker.
But then it stopped. Planned obsolescence took over. And it permeated through all other class of products too. Clothes, shoes, bags, toys, stationery. What’s scary is how seamlessly we accepted this as the new normal. I can’t remember hearing anyone mention rafoo since 2010. The electronics repairmen were first to go. Then the ‘pen doctors’, and zip replacers, and bicycle repairmen. Yes, one finds them in pockets but they’ve been distanced from my lived experience. One thinks twice before taking hand-me-downs to baby showers. There’s an entire industry dedicated to fashion for toddlers – tiny humans who can’t stop drooling and shitting, and grow out of clothes every few months. And somehow that’s okay.
Of course, now social station is involved. Consumption was always a signifier for class, but never has the notion of consuming repaired goods been so negatively associated with lower rank. The effect is startling when one is at its receiving end. I pride myself on being a good listener and a curious learner. I’d relied on as much to mix at social affairs, and come away having a good time. Never did it occur to me that the assumed progressive circles I hung out with could sum me up, however covertly, based on the age of my clothing. It’s instant and appalling. I now understand that the old and worn look is available in the market, with all the right creases and time-inured wear and tear. Weather-beaten has to be made to look sexy, else it doesn’t count.
I feel misplaced. Everyone got on the fast train, and now they look at me funny. Getting my laptop bag sutured or cutting my torn trousers in half to make home shorts feels like taking a stand. I don’t want any of this. And the feeling is awful, when you don’t want the banal casualness of your actions to have meaning and yet they do. When mundane choices become micro-battles you don’t want to fight because you’re busy doing things that actually matter to you. This doesn’t look like it’ll change anytime soon. The rafoos are gone, perhaps forever. Only the false nostalgia and invented charm remain. But that isn’t for me; I’ll leave that to writers aspiring to old world authenticity.