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Updated: July 3, 2010 16:36 IST

Poor man's leather

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Most of the rexine shops at Ballimaran have diversified into reatail. Photo: V. V. Krishnan
The Hindu.
Most of the rexine shops at Ballimaran have diversified into reatail. Photo: V. V. Krishnan

The rexine sellers of Ballimaran are determined to keep in tune with the times

Ballimaran, once the home of Mirza Ghalib, who lived in one of its havelis (which have all but ceased to exist now), and the hub of boat rowers, is now the main zone for shops selling spectacles, footwear and rexine.

Ballimaran is still suspended between centuries. Men, women, children and rickshaws squabble for space in the narrow congested lanes here. Some of the shops that line the street date back almost 75 to 100 years. Trade secrets here have been handed down from father to son. “I inherited the trade from my father, who in turn inherited it from his father,” says Marhoob Ullemaan, who now runs his family business with the help of his son. Asked how old this shop would be, he adds proudly, “This shop is somewhere around 100 years old, from even before Independence. This is our ancestral shop.”

“Every shop here has digressed into retail instead of just limiting itself to the wholesale business because now there are only five or six shops left, which sell rexine. Most of the market has shifted near Shahdara,” informs Mohammed Karim.

The shopkeepers import the cloth from China and parts of India. “Most of the customers want imported designs with different and new patterns because the cloth works as a raw material, used as sofa covers, auto and car covers and related things. We need to keep up with the times in order to stay in the race,” says Mohammed Zakir, who co-owns the shop with his older brother. “The price of rexine ranges from Rs.60 to 500 and there is a variety of rexine material and competition definitely abounds. If there are customers all is good but when they go missing things do roughen up a bit. It's a bit hard to survive in such conditions,” says Zakir. “Though a large part of the market has moved to Shahdara we have managed to retain our age-old customers and it's hard to expect new ones,” he adds as an afterthought.

Under the name of artificial leather — not to be confused with the more modern ‘pleather' or American leather cloth — large quantities of the material with the leather-like surface are used principally for upholstery purposes, such as the covering of chairs, lining the tops of writing desks and tables, and so on. Rexine has been in use since the first decades of the 20th Century, and it has been the perfect low-cost substitute for genuine hide. Also, some prefer it to leather due to the fact that it's not made of animal skin but only looks like leather.

Vowing not to go the boat rowers' way, the rexine sellers of Ballimaran have evolved with the times. Their continued presence in the Walled City is a testimony.

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