Occupation – Roadside cobbler
Mohammed Basheer sits cross-legged on a platform, an island of calm at busy Vanchiyoor Junction, surrounded by old shoes, umbrellas and bags, all of which are in various stages of repair. Most mornings and till around three in the afternoon, come rain or shine, the 64-year-old is to be found here bent over the item that he is repairing, his various instruments – chisel, awl, blade, needle, thread, twine, hammer and so on – arranged neatly beside him.
“For a long while, I used to sit on the footpath at East Fort, where the footfall is higher than it is here, and where, consequently, there is more work to be had. That’s where most my fellow roadside cobblers ply their trade. At East Fort, though, at any moment, we have to make a run for it, if there is some issue with the authorities, that is. I am too old and too frail for the exciting life there!” says the soft-spoken Mohammed, his bespectacled face crinkling into a smile.
All the while, his hands are busy deftly taking apart a pair of black leather loafers, the soles of which look frayed. He’ll soon glue together the first sole and the second sole before stitching the two together.
“You need a steady hand and have to ensure that the stitches don’t show,” explains Mohammed. “Nowadays, it’s mostly shoes that I repair. In the rainy season, I get a fair number of umbrellas too,” he adds. He says that he is able to make at least Rs. 250 a day, charging anything from Rs.20 to Rs.30 per shoe/umbrella, depending on the work. “I’ve heard of roadside cobblers earning upwards of Rs. 1,000 a day. Taking on too much work can lead to shoddy craftsmanship. I’d rather take my time and repair the shoes so that they look like new,” says Mohammed.
Apparently, after he completed class 10, from Balamandiram, Poojappura, he was chosen for the police force. But due to certain circumstances, he could not join and consequently ran away from home, wandering the streets of South India for over a decade. “I picked up the trade on the roads of Madras (Chennai), observing old annachis at work,” recalls Mohammed, who now lives at Beemapally with wife, Khadeeja, and sons Amir Hamsa and Shahjahan, both of who are roadside fruit-sellers. “They are not interested in being cobblers,” says Mohammed, rather perfunctorily, as he tries to get-up.
“The biggest difficulty of the job is sitting cross legged,” he groans. “After you sit in the position for long periods of time, usually you get pins and needless. Imagine doing the same, day in and day out for 40 years. I find it difficult to walk these days, that’s why every once in a while I need to get up and stretch my legs.”