I am...A Balan

May 10, 2017 02:22 pm | Updated 02:22 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

A Balan

A Balan

Occupation: Two-wheeler upholstering

I got into this trade right after I finished my schooling at Central high-school, Attakkulangara, in 1965. Training was at Thampi upholstery, a famous shop at Mettukada. I learned car upholstery work for three years and two-wheeler work for two years. Then I rented this space near Vanchiyoor in 1971 and started my own business.

This was perhaps the third upholstery shop to open in the city. I mainly did upholstery for cars and furniture, back then. It would take at least three hours to do the seat work of cars and longer if it’s the whole interior. For doing roof upholstery of ambassador cars, you had to take out the back and front glass. So there is a lot of work involved. But sofa sets only takes a couple of hours to finish.

Celebrity customers

I have reupholstered cars of several famous personalities during that time. Actor Sathyan’s Ambassador Mark 2 car was one of them. It was the first vehicle of that model to hit the city roads. I have also done the upholstery of a vintage Chevrolet car owned by the royal family of erstwhile Travancore.

Gradually the number of two-wheelers began to rise during late 70s. During the 80s business from two-wheelers surpassed that of cars. Car work, although it required more effort and time, didn’t give me much profits. Reupholstering of bikes is an easier job with a bigger profit margin. So I completely quit doing cars by the late 80s and turned the shop into a two-wheeler upholstery shop.

Today I only do work for two-wheelers. Replacing damaged seats, rexin seat covers, sewing torn covers and making tank bags for bikes are some of the things that we do here.

Making a new seat often takes the whole day. Sometimes the customers bring the frame or else we have to employ a welder to make a frame for us. Then we stick the sponge on the frame and cover it with the rexin sheet, shaped according to the shape of the seat. The designer patterns on the rexin sheet takes hardly 10 minutes to make and the screen print of bike model or the company name, on the side or back of the seat takes no time at all.

My work will last for at least four years. Tank bags too are handmade by us in the shop itself. It takes just an hour and costs only Rs 200.

I get all the materials required including rexin sheets and sponge from a shop at Thakaraparambu. It is difficult to say how much rexin we will need in a month as there is no way to say how many customers we are going to get. I need only a quarter metre piece for a seat. For most works we use the standard black rexin sheet called ‘Banyan’ rexin. But fancy coloured materials are used on two-wheelers of youngsters.

Ups and downs

On the busiest days, I have done the upholstery for more than ten bikes. During summer there won’t be much work as people aren’t concerned about torn seat covers. But during monsoon, water seeps in through the tears. So just before the rain I get a lot of work.

The shop is open on all days except Sundays. My house is near the shop. I live there with my wife, Sulochana. All my three children are married.

A weekly column on men and women who make Thiruvananthapuram what it is

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