Factory-made foam mattresses seem to rule the roost. Whatever happened to the humble cotton gaadi? It has not really gone anywhere you find, when you speak to Khurban, who works in one of the many little shops that still make and sell handmade cotton mattresses.
He came to Bangalore from his hometown in Andhra Pradesh when he was barely 12 for his summer vacation, and never went back!
Now 23, Khurban makes a good living for himself working as cotton mattress-maker in the city.
When he first came here, his family friends were into the bed-making business and he got initiated into it. “Then everything got set. So I never went back,” he smiles, looking over his glasses, all the while busy on his sewing machine, stitching a new bed cover. He now works at a bedding shop in Malleswaram, where he joined two years ago. A customer has given an old bed and wants the old cotton re-fluffed, new cotton added, and a new cover made for it.
When he started out at 12, he says, the police came and told him he shouldn’t be working as a child. But he somehow “managed”, says the shy Khurban, not wanting to tell what compelled him to work.
Today he earns well, and shop-owner Basha has given him a bike, and provides him lunch from his home everyday.
He works from 9.30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and manages to go to home to Chittoor once in three months. Isn’t this work difficult? Why choose this? His answer is practical: “Any work will be hard!”
He then goes on to observe the changes in the bedding industry, within and from the customer’s viewpoint. “In my time, when you started training, you had to work free for six months with whoever taught you the trade. Now, you have to pay to train them! I have trained four boys.”
Between 2005 and 2009, when coir and foam mattresses came initially into the market and were all the rage, he says their business dimmed down. After people realised the problems these new mattresses created — back pain, and heat — says Khurban, they came back to cotton mattresses.
Khurban makes both readymade beds as well as mattresses to order. He also makes sofa seats and cushions.
He stitches the cover to measured size, weighs the bale cotton, then puts it through a ginning machine to fluff it up. “Earlier we would beat the cotton by hand. Nowadays our work is made easier with this machine,” he points to the blue noisy contraption.
Once he stuffs the cotton into the mattress, the next step is to put stitches to hold the cotton in place. He tells me it takes about 17 kg of cotton to make a single box bed. He makes up to four beds a day. The machine takes about half hour to prepare the cotton needed for a bed.
Even as he talks, he fluffs up more cotton and the machine is spewing fine cotton dust that sets me coughing. Khurban, however is used to it. He says at most he ties a handkerchief across his nose sometimes as he works.