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Umbrella days

When the monsoon approaches, a frantic search for old umbrellas begins. Soon the umbrella mender arrives with his familiar trade cry.

Besides the traditional bundle of discarded umbrellas in various stages of dilapidation on his back, the umbrella mender will have a bag with different kinds of tools and articles including needles, knives, blades, small hammers, wire cutters, scissors, threads, canvas for canopies, ribs, ferrules, handles, iron and copper wires, springs, runners, stretchers and so on. He will empty the contents of his bag on a dirty piece of rough sack.

The umbrella mender with his hands begrimed with the dust of the highways and the byways will sit on his haunches and concentrate on his work. He will be surrounded by the adult members of the family for instructing him what to do or not. The children of the house sit close and watch the agile hands of the mender sewing, cutting, tearing, stretching, bending, hammering and so on. Their insignificant questions out of childish inquisitiveness interrupt the smooth flow of the work.

The canopies of the umbrellas made up of eight panel sections will be perforated by silverfish, cockroaches and firebrats. Therefore, they often need replacement. The ribs will be bent and twisted badly. Then it will be a tremendous task for one to unfurl the umbrella.

The most problematic part is the top spring that allows the umbrella to open and close. If the top spring refuses to work, the umbrella carrier must be in an awkward situation. The most common glitch is that the umbrella cannot be folded if once unfolded or vice versa. The other common parts of the old umbrellas that require mending or replacing are pole shafts, ribs, ferrules, runners, handles, handle rings and others.

But the intention of the umbrella mender will be to convince his customers to change as many parts as possible. However, he will not exaggerate. To the utter astonishment of the umbrella owner, the mender, like a specialist orthopaedic surgeon who heals fractured or broken bones, will bring the umbrella back to work. Then he will fold and unfold it several times in quick succession to smooth its operation and hand over it to its owner with a beaming face.

Many times, all parts except the handle will be replaced. Therefore, the owner has to pay sums which will be nearly enough to buy a new one. Yet the old umbrellas will not be discarded. Actually, mending dismantled umbrellas is an obsession for some people.

Though there are different types of umbrellas, classical umbrellas were commonly used. Then collapsible umbrellas came in the market briskly for they could easily be folded and carried in handbags. Mending foldable umbrellas will be charged double for its comparatively complex mechanism.

The halcyon days of the umbrella menders has almost ended as the umbrella has attained a use-and-throw status. Umbrella hawkers selling cheap umbrellas have become usual sights. With the onset of monsoon, one can buy half-a-dozen substandard umbrellas at ₹200 to ₹300, less than the cost of a standard umbrella. After the monsoon, most of them are discarded.

Nowadays umbrella menders are rarely visible on the streets before the monsoon. Just before the rains, I look forward to some umbrella mender every year. But to my utter disappointment, no umbrella mender passes by the road in front of our house. My repeated attempts to get rid of those dismantled umbrellas have been foiled by my octogenarian father as he does not want them to be discarded under any circumstances.

nandi.budha@gmail.com


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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 3:15:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/umbrella-days/article35251895.ece

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