I am Sivakumar, and this is Mahendran, my close friend and guru who taught me how to weave seats for chairs. Mahendran, who is like an elder brother to me, has been weaving for the past 40 years. His father was also a weaver.
We normally use nylon wire from Maharashtra for weaving. It’s costlier than locally produced wire, but of better quality. We have to buy the wire by weight and the quantity varies according to the order. You get almost all the colours except for pink, gold and brown, which are no longer in production.
Repairing or weaving a new seat costs Rs. 150. This is much cheaper than reupholstering a sofa, which could start at around Rs. 5,000.
In a day, we can weave up to 4 seats, but that’s not enough to make a living. So I drive an auto-rickshaw in my spare time.
This skill is easy to pick up; I learned it from Mahendran just by observing him. There are no tools, but your hands get calloused due to yanking the sharp-edged wires for a tighter fit. There are just four basic steps and you have to create a strong mesh that can seat anyone comfortably on the chair.
A woven chair can last up anywhere between two to 10 years, but of late we are seeing new furniture being brought for repair frequently. Before, people used to have real teakwood chairs that had in-built frames for the wire mesh; now it’s all cheap country wood with removable seats.
Middle-class families with old furniture are our regular customers. As most of the offices these days are air-conditioned, they have shifted to cushioned chairs. But we can still find woven seats in government offices and educational institutions. A mass order from these places can make us a neat profit.
The tragedy is that nobody wants to follow us in this trade. We spend around Rs. 50 on the wire, but our labour is getting costlier because it is so hard to find skilled workers.
We cannot afford to rent a place of our own – so we work on the pavement outside Mahendran’s house. It’s a little noisy, but what can we do?
It’s a difficult way to make a living. Even blind workers, who used to traditionally be employed in this sector, have shifted over to selling agarbattis (incense sticks) because it is more lucrative.
(A fortnightly column on men and women who make Tiruchi what it is)