For a fast dwindling community,the shoemakers seem quite optimistic about the future as even though business is slow,they have a loyal customer base
One almost misses them on the path leading up to the hustle and bustle of MG Road,but for the 20-25 odd shoemakers who work out of a singular address only known as 201 MG Road,this is not uncommon. From being mainframe suppliers of shoes to the working class people to now making shoes just for a limited few,they have seen the acme and the nadir of the profession. Everything is still handmade here, says Suresh Kumar Ram,who has been a shoemaker for the last 50 years. Littered with scraps of leather,rubber and PVC soles,and also a huge collection of football rubber bladders,their workplace is a stark reminder of what life could have been,had the mass produced durable shoes not taken over the current times. We don’t use machines as they get rid of the personalisation attached to making shoes by hand,and their finish too is totally different from what we have been providing our customers, Ram says.
Most of the shoemakers working here are fourth or fifth generation members from their respective families. The paucity of places to work,coupled with our own meager earnings,has forced us to work collectively here. In the past,there were a lot of shoemakers,but the number has steadily reduced, says Sudarshan R,who has been working here for the last 25 years. Though unsure of the exact date of the establishment of their little shoe store,they do know that it is over a 100 years old. And during the erstwhile days of the British Raj,their ancestors would make shoes for the sepoys in the army. Back in the 1960s,shoes were sold at Rs 15 per piece; the prices have now risen to Rs 1000 per piece. That is the minimum price tag and they can can go up to Rs 3000 depending on the leather quality, says Kumar. The shoemakers even ensure that the soles of the shoes are made of leather. We use patented leathers bought from markets at Ganesh Peth. PVC or rubber soles are used only if specified by the customer.
The process of making a pair of shoes takes close to eight days. The leather is first stretched over a wooden frame mould,and then dried for three days,so that it is cured. Post that,the mould is removed to ensure that the leather acquires the necessary shape,and this is then nailed onto the sole. The shoe is again dried and strengthened by both compressing and stretching it,so that it becomes worthy for all weathers. After polishing,they are dried again to ensure that they are free from cracks, adds Ramesh Bhagat,another shoemaker.
As far as surviving the competition is concerned,Sujit Singh,who has been working here for 10 years,says,Durable and fancy ready made shoes have eaten into our business but we are not worried. Even though each one of us earns only Rs 5000-6000 a month,we have a steady customer base of youngsters and elders. He also adds,Even policemen get their shoes made here. So though the going is tough,we do not complain much.