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I AM… Govinda, a cobbler

Change must come from me and from customers, says Govinda. Photo: K. Bhumika

Change must come from me and from customers, says Govinda. Photo: K. Bhumika  

If the pulse of a city is its people, then the way a city changes can also be measured through their attitude towards fellow human beings. Nothing illustrates this better than the observations of D. Govinda, a cobbler in the city.

If the pulse of a city is its people, then the way a city changes can also be measured through their attitude towards fellow human beings. Nothing illustrates this better than the observations of D. Govinda, a cobbler who’s watched the city’s people go by, stopping to seek his services “urgently”. Sitting in his usual spot behind his cobbler’s stone inside the little shoe repair booth for the last 22 years in Malleswaram, Govinda says the attitude people have towards a cobbler has changed, and for the better.

“Why not? Naanoo manushya alva? (Am I not a human being too?),” he asks. It’s to do with the kind of attitude people have towards people doing such “lowly tasks and seeing us as keel jana (lesser people),” he says. “People would get their shoe repaired and drop my fee from high above, without touching my hands,” he recalls with acrimony.

Customers would come to him struggling with broken footwear, but leave it on the footpath in front of him and ask him to pick it up — they would never hand it over themselves. “But now that attitude has changed. Both from their side, and ours. Even we should change, shouldn’t we? Very few people remain unchanged. But if such people come along, now we boldly tell them we are no less than them. If they want to do their shoki, (show-off) they should be willing to touch the chappal that makes their life shoki,” he reasons. “If they don’t pick up their chappal and give it in my hand, I ask them to go find some other cobbler,” he says with pride.

Govinda also admits that a lot more has also changed in what he sees as a fast-dying profession. “Today many people don’t even get their chappal repaired! It’s all use-and-throw stuff that they buy for a hundred rupees.” Very few come to him for re-soling, stitching straps and other odd jobs like that. So then he has moved on to selling footwear for a small margin. “What else can I do? I buy some chappals at wholesale stores and sell them here for a small sum. People who don’t have time to repair them quickly pick these up and move on.”

He’s lived all his 49 years in Bangalore, and has mainly shuttled between his home in a slum in Vyalikaval and his booth in Malleswaram. His father was a weaver, but Govinda first worked for a borewell business. When the owner shut shop due to losses, people of his community told him of LIDKAR’s (the then Karnataka Leather Industries Development Corporation) training; the organisation also gave him a loan and set up the booth for him.

(I Am is a column that features people who make Bangalore what it is)

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Printable version | May 21, 2020 4:48:27 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/i-am-govinda-a-cobbler/article4797514.ece

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