Chennai

Homeless tailor makes and distributes cloth masks free-of-cost to residents

A. Sumathi worked as a house maid before moving to Ratan Bazaar Road to stitch clothes. PHOTO: R. RAGU

A. Sumathi worked as a house maid before moving to Ratan Bazaar Road to stitch clothes. PHOTO: R. RAGU  

A. Sumathi, a homeless tailor, has an emotional attachment to a patch on the widened tiled footpath along Ratan Bazaar Road near Flower Bazaar police station in Broadway. Because, that is where she was born nearly four decades ago. The space is filled with childhood memories of playing with children from other homeless families and going to the nearby government school along with them. Since then, the space on the busy stretch has undergone many changes which includes receiving a tiled floor recently. For Sumathi though, there is something eternally unchanging about the place. It will always be her birthplace, and hold a cherished place in her heart.

Now, 39-years-old and a mother for two who have college degrees to their names, Sumathi sits in front of her home on a worn-out cushion chair and pedals her sewing machine to stitch old clothes of neighbours and school uniforms to earn a livelihood. During the initial lockdown days, she even made cloth face masks and distributed them to homeless persons in Broadway, Park Town and Seven Wells, free-of-cost.

“Despite poor income and not much work coming her way, especially during the lockdown, I managed to make and distribute 60 cloth face masks to other homeless persons free of cost. I am even ready to stitch more such masks without any labour charges if someone provides me with cloth,” says Sumathi.

Prior to the lockdown, on an average, Sumathi would get 15 to 20 customers, mainly women, to stitch their old clothes including chudidaar and the school uniform of their children. This way, she managed a decent daily income of around ₹ 800 before the shutdown came into effect in March this year. Since then, Sumathi has been struggling to earn her livelihood, and barely manages to earn ₹300 every day.

Initially, residents of the neighbourhood were hesitant to step out of their houses due to fear of infection and lack of awareness about the preventive measures they have to be taken. Later, residents started wearing face masks and maintained social distance whenever they stepped out of their houses.

With residents’ movement impacting Sumathi’s tailoring work, in the initial days of lockdown, in March and April, she stayed at her sister house in Ayanavaram where Sumathi's children stay and pursue their higher education.

After residents started stepping out and learnt to take preventive measures, Sumathi managed to find some tailoring work in her neighbourhood.

“Long-time residents provide cloth to make face masks for them and their relatives. I don't insist on a fee to make such face masks. But, they give me a token fee for my work as they know me for many years,” she says.

Marriage led Sumathi to move to Ayanavaram many years ago where she worked in eight houses as a house maid to earn an income and educate her two children. For the next 15 years, Sumathi worked in Ayanavaram and adjoining areas till her children started pursuing graduation. Over the years, Sumathi's health also deteriorated due to hard labour as a maid. Finally, five years ago, she returned to her birthplace with a swearing machine that she brought with her decade-long savings as house maid. “I want my children to have a decent life. My sufferings should end with me,” she says.

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Printable version | Aug 10, 2020 8:42:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/a-sewing-machine-and-a-kind-heart/article31991814.ece

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