The soles on Sher Singh’s favourite Bata loafers had worn through, and dimesize holes in his socks began to appear. So, the 38-year-old legal assistant, headed to a shoe repair in Sector 35C, where he has been going for over seven years now. Here, he meets Jagdish Ram, a second generation cobbler, who has been sitting at the same spot since 1978. “I’ve seen the city grow with my own eyes,” says the 56-year-old. The area of his small shoe-repair setup is piled high with reheeled stilettos, resoled boots and polished oxfords.
“We were 12 of us initially who used to sit in Sector 35, 10 are no more, another one has given up on this profession and sitting at home due to ill-health. As for me, I’ve been lucky as you can see,” says Ram. Originally from Muzaffarnagar, where his eldest brother is the zilla adhyaksh, Ram feels he got dragged into the profession due to the wrong reasons. “All my siblings made something of their lives except for me who took to my father’s profession. Buri sangat ka asar tha, maine waqt barbaad kiya hai bachpan mein (It is due to bad company that I got into this, I wasted a lot of time during my childhood),” he adds. But that hasn’t deterred the Dadu Majra resident’s determination as one notices the sincerity with which he repairs Sher Singh’s shoes. “Kya karein mujhe bahut karz chukana hain, bitiya ki haal hi mein shaadi hui thi (I owe a lot of people money as my daughter got married only recently,” says Ram, who earns about Rs 200- 300 a day in this season.
On the other hand, it is ironical that 52-year-old Ramesh Kumar has been sitting under a tree next to a shoe shop in the Sector-34 main market for the past 25 years. But, that hasn’t affected the business. “People come to get new shoes made as well, but mostly it’s repair work and I earn a sufficient amount,” says Kumar who earns about Rs 250-350 in summers and Rs 400-500 in winters. “For obvious reasons, we earn more between November to March but even now, I get at least 15 customers a day… so am happy,” says an optimistic Kumar. Originally from Bihar, he got into the profession because of his father and grandfather. “Humne toh yahi seekha hai ki jo karo sache dil se karo, baaki kabhi koi kami mehsoos nahi hui (I’ve learnt that whatever you do, do with the utmost dedication and I’ve never felt short of anything as such),”Kumar adds.
But not everyone’s story is like Kumar’s. Rajinder, Kaushal, Ramesh and their friends who sit in the verandah next to the Neelam Theatre in Sector 17 have been asked to vacate the spot by the municipal corporation several times. Complaining of receiving no aid from their “pradhan”, they come to each other’s rescue when the need arises. “We never receive any help from the union. But, we have learnt to manage as, at times, the corporation members ask us to get up, and at times, months pass but no one says anything,”says Rajinder, 39. “Besides, it is the only place where you would get colourful polish for your footwear,”says a proud Ramesh.
While Rajinder is happy that he is his own boss in the business and can take an off whenever he wishes to, Kaushal, 42, thinks differently. “Aaram toh hai apna kaam karne ka, par hum toh kuch aur kar nahi paye. Main apne bacchon ko padha raha hoon taaki woh padh-likh kar kuch ban sake (It might be peaceful in one way but I don’t want my children to walk on this path. So I’m making sure they study well and make something of their lives),”says Kaushal, whose sons study at a government model school.
The union president of Rozgar Bacchao Samriti, Leela Ram, who sits in the Rehri Market, Sector 33, chose to defend himself by saying that he tried do the best he could to address their issues. “The Chandigarh deputy commissioner has finally allowed us to sit here,”he says. On the other hand, city mayor Poonam Sharma, who claims to be working hard to ensure the approval of the Street Vendor Act in Chandigarh, says, “It is true that not all cobblers have been given a licence, and hence the process needs to be regularised as every human being has the right to earn.”