Cobblers that once lined busy streets, can now only be found in specific nooks and corners of the city. To mend and repair a broken item was a customary practice in the olden days. However, with the emergence of the ‘use and throw’ culture, the art of preservation has been forgotten. This shift can be observed to a greater extent in urban areas of India, where we no longer mend but throw.
Gopal, a cobbler in Bengaluru, said his business has undergone several changes in a bid to survive. From shoes, he first expanded his practice to include repair work for bags. After a few years in the business, Gopal began manufacturing shoes and flip flops too. “I make shoes if the customer demands or orders with the repair works. I have a standard catalogue of shoes that customers can choose from. Usually, the customer will spend Rs. 2000-3000 on one shoe, and I will make the same shoe for Rs. 500-700. Materials and the quality of shoes will also be very similar to the shop.”
Gopal learnt the skill of repairing from his neighbour and made it his profession, 16 years ago. Initially, he and his family were working at a clay brick factory on the outskirts of Bengaluru. However, an unfortunate incident forced him to not only change his occupation but also take on the responsibility of his young nephew, training him in repair work to ensure that he can earn his living. Gopal narrated his story:
“My brother’s wife had a baby when she was working at the clay brick factory. One day, a snake bit my sister-in-law, and the owners of the company did not even bother to take her to the hospital for treatment. We took her to the hospital ourselves, and after five hours, she died there. Seeing my community and background, the owner did not support us financially. Instead, he said we killed my sister-in-law and not a snake bite. After her death, I have adopted the kid, and he now runs a cobbler shop around the corner.”
From that incident, I decided that I will not work for someone and do my own business instead.”