"I used to watch a lot of television just to learn the language."
On this unusually quiet road in Prashanthnagar lined with parks and plenty of trees, I wish Arasu every morning as he sets up shop. If his ever-smiling face sports a wide grin, I know it is an acknowledgement. I have visited his shop – Pavitra Ladies Tailors – several times; there have been occasions when customers have been angry with him when he has delayed orders, when he’s closed shop for several weeks without a notice, but not once has that smile on his face transformed into a baser expression. “Everyone is good, I have not met bad people, so there is no need to get angry,” says the mild-mannered Arasu, smiling.
The young Arasu, who I always thought was a Kannadiga from his surname, is actually Poovarasan from Tamil Nadu. His connection with Bangalore started when he was a little boy. “My older brother came to Bangalore from our village Garakkaran Kottayi in Velur District. My sister got married and she came next to this city,” explains Arasu, who moved to live with his sister and brother-in-law after his 12 standard. His parents are agriculturalists and both work on the field in the village. “I too could have done the same, but without rains life back home became difficult. I wanted to go to Bombay…,” he speaks of his dream of working in a cloth shop, after learning of an uncle who did well in that big city. But his parents were apprehensive and coaxed him to live with his sister in Bangalore.
In the early days, he accompanied his brother-in-law who was a lorry driver, but didn’t find it interesting. He finally agreed to being trained as a tailor by his brother, who worked on Richmond Road as master tailor. Along with tailoring, Arasu felt it was very important to learn Kannada. “I used to watch a lot of television just to learn the language. It is so important to know the local language,” he tells me. Arasu improved on his training through sheer hard work and observation, and now is quite confident of stitching “fashionable” blouses too. “Listening to your customer attentively is important. The rest of it can be achieved if you try hard,” he adds.
Labour is the biggest problem, says Arasu. “Earlier, every shop had at least two or three people making button holes. Now there are hardly any, you have to go in search of them. All the skilled labour goes to garment factories and to meet orders is difficult.”
“Living in the city is no joke. Since I live with my sister, the burden on me is not so much. Otherwise, even after working for 12 hours, I wouldn’t be able to make ends meet. This city has changed so much…,” says Arasu, recalling the lush green tree cover of Bangalore. “There were less people, travelling from one place to the other was not difficult, and the climate was cool. Now, I just find bridges and flyovers all over the city!”
You can easily mistake Arasu for a local. The way he speaks Kannada, the way he calls himself, his genuine concern for this city, and the manner in which he quietly integrates without staking any claims. Poovarasan is such a contrast to the nouveau rich, haughty upmarket professionals who are constantly making more and more demands from the city without giving back anything.
If it rains will he go back home? “No… this is my home now….,” he says, smiling as always.
I am is a weekly column that features men and women who make Bangalore what it is.