First a pottery shop, then a lathe, and now, a stationery store. S. Kumar’s business set-up near Greenways Road has seen many changes in the last 40 years. “My father had a pottery shop here,” says the soft-spoken Kumar. Before Kumar’s father came to Chennai as an officer assistant at the Collectorate, he was a farmer in Utharamerur. In Chennai, he used to wake up early in the morning and make pots, before setting out to work, and finish the pottery later in the evening. “A few decades ago, the pots sold very well. But later, as the area developed, it became impossible to have a kiln, and the pottery shop was closed down.”
When Kumar completed his studies (at ITI as a turner) he started S.B.S. Tools, and did lathe work for a few big companies in R.A. Puram. “But when they moved to Padi and Ambattur, I decided to start a stationery and photocopying shop, as the Taluk office is just across the road.”
His business idea proved to be a great success; and today, 15 years later, there’s still a constant stream of people, in and out of his shop S.B.S. Stationery. Kumar, his uncle and brother — who help him run the store — are busy all day.
“We also have a PCO here,” says Kumar, pointing to the telephone outside the door. Until about 10 years ago, the STD booth (now practically unused) did brisk business. But now, it’s only ‘one-rupee calls’, as almost everybody carries a cell phone. Besides customers from the Taluk office, school children drop in. “For brown paper, ink pens, notebooks... Others drop in for stock or accounts registers,” Kumar tells me. All around him, pens and pencils are sealed in cellophane and hang from hooks; notebooks line the shelves behind, and on the counter, next to him, is a stapler (attached by a chain) for the customers to use. “We also leave a stamp-pad out here, for those who cannot sign,” Kumar explains. “Sometimes, old people who come to collect pension fix their thumb print on the forms, and it is handy for them.”
R.A. Puram, Kumar says, has changed dramatically over the years. “After the MRTS station came here, it’s become very busy. Lots of people have moved into this neighbourhood.” Kumar and his family live just above his shop. “It’s a joint family, we’re 10 people, including my parents, and the advantage is, the housework too gets evenly divided.” For now, Kumar is happy with his business, and his only aim is getting the next generation educated. “My son is studying for his diploma in Electronics and Communications. He might not take over the shop, and neither will my nephews — one wants to be a doctor, and the other, an engineer. And all I want to do is support their dream.”
(A weekly column on men and women who make Chennai what it is)