You have to go with the flow, no point crying over what is gone. I used to have a shop right on the main road but road widening and now the flyover have forced me to shift to this tiny space without light and water. Summer or rain, I work in the same space. As a result of constantly crouching over helmets, I developed a spine problem and had to wear a belt for some time. Now that seems to have been cured on its own. I have no complaints. God has always thrown me a lifeline when everything else looked bleak.
My grandfather used to work in our shop on the main road, making and selling leather shoes, sandals and bags. Then my father, Velappan, inherited it. I began helping him and gradually took over from my father. I was not good at studies and so I knew I had to learn a trade to earn a living. We had been working out of the same place for more than 50 years when we were shifted from the main road. By then I had diversified to repairing helmets, all self taught.
My shop opens by 8.30 a.m. For that I have to start early from Puliyarakonam, where I have my own house. My family is from Plamoodu but I shifted to the outskirts of the city after my marriage. I reach Thakaraparambu by 8 a.m. Half an hour later, I am in business. I down shutters by about 6-6.30 p.m. Over the last few years, there has been a boom in the sale of helmets and now it has become mandatory for riders of two-wheelers to use one. For the last eight years, I have been doing only this. I gave up the leather business. All these helmets piled outside were left here by customers. Since I was one of the first to specialise in this, most people in the city know me.
The cloth inside the helmet becomes smelly because of the heat and dust and so many people get that periodically changed. The visor breaks, the chin straps might need strengthening or replacement… I do all that.
There are a few shops selling helmets near my shack and so whenever customers have a problem, they direct them to me. I earn enough to look after my two children, a son and a daughter, who are studying in Tirunelveli. My wife was suffering from breast cancer and she passed away five years ago. Since then the children have been living with their grandparents in Tamil Nadu. Every Saturday, I close the shop and take the train to meet them and spent Sunday in their company. Now they are all I have to look forward to. Both of them are school students.
Till they are able to stand on their own feet, I need to earn enough for their upkeep. The owner of this place has promised to give me a better place once the work on the flyover is over. Perhaps then I will be able to improve the place a bit. Fortunately, my work has always satisfied my customers and so I have never been short of work.
(A weekly column on men and women who make Thiruvananthapuram what it is)