Time to pretend

There’s a costume for every occasion at Abhiruchi ♦

Read this article as part of Time Out Delhi’s “Haunted Delhi” cover story.

Two men walk into a costume shop. They’re looking for a child-sized potato outfit. Mrs Wadhwa doesn’t bat an eyelid. She has an entire vegetable patch worth of costumes: onions, tomatoes, aubergines and even ruched, emerald karelas. She pulls out two spuds – one oblong, one squat, complete with  squinched eyes – to be tied on over small green pants and shirt.

During the half-hour we spent at Abhiruchi, perched on a stool in a sea of bandhni turbans,  graduation gowns and sequined fabric scraps, Madhu Wadhwa  and her husband SR Wadhwa received requests for a potato, an ostrich, a giraffe. We went in looking for a Halloween outfitter, but costumes are just business as usual for the Wadhwas, who’ve run this Lajpat shop for about nine years and recently shifted into a bigger showroom in Central Market.

“What’s Halloween,” asked SR Wadhwa dismissively, as his wife bustled about, plonking cups of tea in front of us. “Halloween is an upper-class affair. It lasts two-three days. We have to survive year-round.” The couple know a bit about hanging on. Madhu, a former teacher at the Apeejay School, and her husband started the shop as an NGO after SR retired from his career in marketing. The non-profit was supposed to promote theatre for children. “It was very difficult to survive unless there was continual income, so we converted to a shop,” SR said. In the early days, he’d go around to schools peddling costumes, but now the schools come to them. The Wadhwas could probably earn more if they raised the security deposits on their get-ups (only about half are ever returned). Instead they scrape along, managing to stay ahead of the competition.

Most of Delhi’s original costume shops are in Kinari Bazaar in old Delhi, and though Abhiruchi works with them, it’s positioned itself as a cut above. “They ask us what new things we are doing,” SR said, “The kind of things they have there are about 100 years old! I once asked who is taking these things… they said some people come from the village to take them outside.” By contrast, SR explains, the Wadhwas bring back the latest trends from America when they go to visit their daughter in Las Vegas.

“Mahatma Gandhi ki topi is better in USA than here,” Madhu avows. She shows us Rabindranath’s imported beard too; “Tagore is going well these days,” she tells us, on account of his 150th birth anniversary last year. Freedom fighters and professional vocations are almost as evergreen as vegetables. We asked SR Wadhwa about the Sheila Dikshit outfit mentioned on their website.

He cocked his head and said, “It looks pretty much like what you’re wearing.”

While Abhiruchi mostly caters to school events, the Wadhwas will take on any work that comes their way. They used to have a full-fledged workshop, but now outsource most of the stitching. They enjoy the occasional order that requires a bit more inventiveness, and are proud of their contribution to the Commonwealth Games (they dressed the dancers at the opening ceremony, but why not try making a serious statement this Halloween with their CWG balloon costume).

“Anything out of the world is actually our cup of tea,” SR said. He showed us the popular Chess King and Queen of Hearts costumes. It’s as we suspected. Lajpat Nagar really is Wonderland.

Abhiruchi Fancy Dresses, D-22 Lajpat Nagar-II, Lower Ground Floor, Central Market (6660-1414).

www.abhiruchi.in or www.facebook.com/Abhiruchicostumes

Read about the city’s ghosts in Time Out Delhi‘s “Haunted Delhi” cover story.

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, October 2011.