Getting Some Perspective

When I was a young chap and had pretensions to elegance I one day bought myself a very fine suit. It had half-lined trousers which I always thought was a mark of distinction. Though I say it myself, it drew admiring glances and comments and so, when I went to live in Afghanistan in the late 1970s I took it with me.

A funny thing about Kabul in those days, perhaps even now, I don’t know, was that you could buy Harris Tweed and other very good cloths there.  They seemed to be roll ends that had been sent for clearance.  So what you did was to buy a length of your cloth of choice and then take it to one of the tailors in town.  You gave them a jacket and/or trousers to copy – which they did, by hand, to the millimetre.

The chap in the photo here was recommended to me and I started off with a sports jacket - which he made beautifully. Most of the sewing was done by young boys who sat cross-legged on a platform to one side of the shop (though I always assumed they must have some kind of a sewing machine somewhere).

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 So then I decided to get a couple of suits made using my very fine one as a template.  I delivered suit and cloth to him one morning, he took some brief measurements (which he marked down in the book there) and told me to come back in a couple of weeks for a fitting.

This is where international history intervened.  A few days after my visit to the tailor the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan.  The sky was dark with Soviet transport planes, the Afghan army was neutralised and Soviet troops appeared on the streets of Kabul.  When I went back to for my fitting there was a Soviet tank backed right up to the frontage of the tailor’s shop. Both the tailor’s and all the other shops were shut and the street was deserted.  Calamity!  Not only had I lost my cloth – I had also lost my finest suit.  I trailed home, despondent at this tragic turn.

The Afghans, I had learnt through my reading, are no strangers to invasions, from the armies of Alexander the Great, to the Moghuls and the British.  The country has been incorporated into  various empires and has been and remains the home of numerous peoples.  All of this must give a certain perspective on life from which I should perhaps have learnt a lesson.   

I cruised past the shop once or twice in the following days but there was no change: Big Tank, No Tailor.  Several weeks later someone told me the shop was open again.  Down I went and it was true – the tank had disappeared and the tailor was back at work.  I went in and there was moment’s silence.  It’s not easy to ask someone how they feel about their country’s being invaded so I just said: “What happened?”

He shrugged his shoulders.  “I took a rest” he said with a smile.