My father used to sit here earlier. I’ve been here for the last 20 years. He never let us help him with the work, instead, told us to go home and study. But when he passed away we had no alternative but to take over this profession. Even though we didn’t have any hint about repairing shoes, we started to sit on the roadside spot our father used to, offering the similar services. We gradually learnt the work. I was quite intelligent at school, my teachers would always tell that to my father. But my father was a drunkard, all his earning went into that. He got really ill once and my family and uncles failed to get him a proper treatment. He died.
I kept on studying whereas my brother left the school. I studied till twelfth, tried getting a job to no avail. Then started working on a petrol pump and did some construction work too. Then I got hired at a factory nearby. They paid me less then what I made by repairing shoes. So I left and returned to being a cobbler. We have managed to make enough out of it to get all three of us married and send my brother to Muscat. I was trying to get a visa for myself but my passport wasn’t valid, my brother was free and he used the opportunity.
I was a regular attendee of Taraksheel Society’s meetings in Barnala before marriage because of all the books I read. In the beginning, I only read the books tackling the issues of downtrodden people like me but then a friend suggested reading all kinds of literature, ‘keeps you balanced’ he said. Now I read anything I get my hands on. The first book I read was ‘Bharti Lok Neech Kive Bne’ (How did Indians become lowly) by Gurnam Singh Muktsar. I bought books from all the places and fares I went to. After a considerable collection, I began putting up a bookstall of my own. I always carry this leather bag with me and in it, I keep the books I’m reading.
Sure there’s progress if one buys a shop but there are lot more expenses that come with it. Even if the government decides to expand the road tomorrow I won’t lose anything, I will just have to lift my stuff and move somewhere else but you can’t do that with a shop. It gets tough during illness or a function but we make enough to meet our daily needs. We have improved the condition of a house my father left us. There’s not much investment in this work but it has increased. The main material you need is a thread, polish, nails, and stapler. Some things used to be available for free, like the rubber from used tyres, but now I have to buy it for 150 Rs. We could get the wax from the beehive before. I will tell children about the profession along with the education. I will try to give them the best life I can.
Story & Text by Gurdeep Dhaliwal