For over 60 years, Ghouse Khan and his father, Farid Khan, have been suppling petromax and gas lights to temples, dargahs and churches around Mylapore. Surrounded by dozens of lights, trunks and tinsel, Ghouse Khan talks about his work. “I took over my father’s business 30 years ago. Soon, I became associated with the Gulab Punjab Band, and supplied lights to the functions they played in. I’ve also modified these single and double mantle gas lights myself,” he says, showing some of his creations. Thanks to his father’s business, their family always had light in the house.
“There were no electric lights back then. We had hurricane lamps with wicks; but when we went back home from school, we took a petromax light from our shop, and it would burn from 6 to 10 p.m. We studied in that light,” says the 58-year-old.
Ghouse Khan’s father encouraged him to take an active interest in work, even when he was in school. “I learnt to take orders, supply the lights, and more important, keep time,” he says. Sitting in his shop, just off the busy Kutcheri Road, Ghouse Khan says his day begins with a visit to the mosque, at 5 a.m. He then prays at the dargahs and travels from Triplicane, where he lives, to Mylapore, where he carries out his business.
Gas lights, he says, have changed with the times. In his father’s days, they supplied ‘star lights’ for weddings. “My father fixed mirrors around the light; he used ‘L’ shaped, diamond and heart shaped mirrors, and these caught and threw light.” Later, Ghouse Khan updated the design, and now rents out ‘disco flower lights.’ “There, see,” he says, pointing to a gas-light that is surrounded by a halo of multi-coloured tinsel. “We make spokes of coloured paper and attach it to the frame. It’s popular in North Indian weddings,” he says, opening an iron trunk and showing me some hand-made samples.
“Earlier, every wedding had a janavasam, and they hired 20-30 lights. Now, groom-processions are rare, and even if they ask for lights, it’s just 4.’ Rising costs are partly to blame, feels Ghouse Khan. “Appo, oru buddi ennai 1/ 4 anna,” he laughs. ‘So the rent for the light was Rs. 5. Now, fuel is expensive; and I find it very difficult to source people to carry the lights for the processions,” he says.
Temple work, however, keeps his business going. The Vedantha Desikar Devasthanam, Sai Baba temple, Karaneeswarar temple and the Apparswamy temple, among others, rent lights from Ghouse Khan, as they had previously from his father. “I supply lights for temple festivals, and whenever there is a purapaada (procession). For the past eight years, I’ve sponsored the maasi ammavaasai purapaadu at a temple. During my difficult times, a temple priest told me to light ghee lamps at the Chakrathazhwar Sannadhi; I have found peace and relief. All Gods are one! You too should try it for one mandalam,” he says earnestly.
Besides religious places and weddings, gas lights are hired for family functions and cinema shoots. And, of course, when there’s a power failure, people from the shops nearby know where to look for hand-held lights. “I have raised my six children thanks to this business; all I want is to continue doing this sincerely. Seiyum thozhil deivam,” he smiles.
(A weekly column on men and women who make Chennai what it is)