Sari maker who is worth a journey

To find the tailor of 37th Avenue, you have to allow yourself to get lost.
You can start by meandering down the avenue in Jackson Heights, past the discount stores and street vendors hawking samosas, nuts and the holy Koran. Then you Cross Kalpana Chalwa Way, named after the Indian-American astronaut who perished in the 2003 Columbia explosion and come to JMD, where rows of saris glimmer in the window. Walk down the staircase to the underground mall, past the beauty salon specializing in herbal waxes and a tiny store selling Bollywood videos.
This is where you will find Abdul Majid, hunched over a Juki sewing machine set directly into the table in front of him. There is no music, no distractions, just the steady swish, swish of the steel needle gliding across colorful pieces of fabric Majid feeds into the machine. The only decorations are scribbles of customers’ phone numbers and sketches of dress patterns, taped haphazardly to the walls.
Majid, 52, is an immigrant from Bangladesh, with warm brown eyes and a bald head that glistens under the glare of the fluorescent light of his tiny studio. He claims he can sew a sari in just one hour at the bargain price of $35 - that is, if customers supply the material.
“You want a sari?” he asked a visitor to his shop on a recent day, his voice hoarse. “I make one for you, no problem. Are you married? I am looking for a wife.”
Today he is fulfilling an order from a Pakistani customer, a sari made of turquoise and blue fabric and decorated with swirls of silver sequins. His fingers, although starting to crook with the stress of a lifetime of sewing, are still graceful, as they fold a piece of cloth evenly to make a sash.
At a time when many Little India businesses are struggling with low sales, Majid gets a steady stream of customers who order saris for everyday wear, weddings and other special occasions. Others seek him out for more traditional requests, such as altering pants or replacing a zipper.
“I come here because it’s quick and easy,” said Abdul Chowdhury, a regular client who lives in Stamford, CT. “I drop off the clothes, go shopping in the neighborhood and by the time I come back, they’re done.”
Merchants in Little India count on visitors like Chowdhury for business, especially in the past year, when sales have been sluggish. Some blame the economy, while others point a finger at the lack of parking in the area, which they say discourages people from the tri-state area from coming in on the weekends. In addition, even when they do come out, as thousands did for Diwali, the Indian New Year on October 12, they are not spending like before.
“Yes, the streets are crowded, but peoples’ buying power is not so strong,” said Ashok Kumar, a member of the Jackson Heights Merchants Association and owner of JMD, the sari store.
Majid seems to be one of the few businesspersons in the neighborhood who is content. “I’m a simple man,” he said. “I don’t need much.”
Majid has lived in New York for eight years, after spending 20 years working in Dubai. He has family in Bangladesh, including a wife and six children, but has not seen them since 1987. He would like to go back for a visit, but can’t because he does not have a green card.
“Do you have any single friends?” he asked a visitor, his eyes sparkling. “Because I make a good husband to someone.”
Majid removes the measuring tape that hangs from his neck like an undone tie and walks to the back of his tiny workshop to make tea. As he warms the water and opens a box of almond cookies, he continues speaking, although every word is painful. Three years ago he had throat surgery and woke up with a hoarse voice. And although the doctor told him it was a side effect that would disappear with time, it hasn’t. Majid still has trouble not only speaking, but swallowing.
Despite the pain, Majid works every single day, getting his business the old-fashioned way: word of mouth.
“It’s a nice life in the U.S.,” he said. “Now all I have to do is find wife. No good to be alone so much.”

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