Making hay while the sun shines: Hot months mean business for ‘cooler’ men of Chandigarh
Sarjiwan Kumar grew up watching his father Sham Lal supply the city with cooler mats. Setting up business way back in 1958 in Sector 22, they were the first cooler people in the city, he claims, even though the shop has changed location since then.punjab Updated: Apr 29, 2018 21:16 IST
As temperatures soar beyond the 40 degree Celsius mark, people in the city have started hotfooting it to Sector 22, one of the oldest markets in the city for cooler mats. Over here, men can be seen with straws and dried, aromatic vetiver grass or khus khus, that gives off a wonderful aroma once sprinkled with water. Ownership of many of these makeshift shops have passed on to the second generation through the years and business is just starting to pick up this year with the heat.
As a bystander remarks, “ACs are comfortable, but nothing beats the cool breeze of a cooler in May.” And the deluxe mats of khus khus fill the room with their exquisite fragrance, cooling off when soaked with water.
Sarjiwan Kumar grew up watching his father Sham Lal supply the city with cooler mats. Setting up business way back in 1958 in Sector 22, they were the first cooler people in the city, he claims, even though the shop has changed location since then.
The bamboo and straw for the mats, which sell for Rs 200 a pair, are brought from Dharampur, Himachal Pradesh. During the winter, Sarjiwan Kumar says they make blinds and window coverings from bamboo.
His father Sham Lal is happy with what he does but takes time to proudly talk about his brother, an MPhil in music. “Back in the old days, I would watch my brother perform with legends like the Punjabi poet Shiv Kumar Batalwi,” he reminisces.
Sushil Kumar, who looks after his father Raman Kumar’s 40-year-old business, has worked at Amar Ujala newspaper’s marketing department, but now looks after this business full time. “Sometimes rain can damage the mats that spoils them. We have to cover the frames with tarpaulin but it’s not always effective,” he says talking about some of the challenges they face.
Mats with straw and a small percentage of khus khus, which retains water as the roots of the plant are bunched together, are cheaper, but the special khus khus ones can cost more than Rs 400 a pair. “Mats with a large percentage of straws can have a problem because the straw falls out and adding khus khus takes care of the problem. It is also more durable and its natural perfume makes it popular,” says Sushil Kumar.
Sohan Lal has been running his shop for 50 years, but business is seasonal. “We set up our shop for two to three months in the summer to make some money,” he says, adding that he gets the material for his mats from faraway Madhya Pradesh. During the winter and other months he does odd jobs, even working as a daily wage labourer to make ends meet. Handy with wood, he also mends furniture and chairs when he can.
(with inputs from Arshpreet Kaur)