M G Road in Camp is a place full of character. Almost every element of the motley mix – person,establishment or store – seems to have layers to uncover. In the midst of this microcosmic representation of what Poona was and its transformation into Pune,sit three men like stoic witnesses to the changing times.
Nalan Kumar Prasad,Ganga Dayal and his son Parmeshwar Ram blend well with their background as they sit cross legged on the footpath,leaning on the locked wooden door of an aging building.
They dextrously fashion shoes for men from leather sheets and their trade has not changed for over 30 years. But while they now share space with passers by,beggars and some vendors on the footpath,till some years ago they used to enjoy their own space behind the doors that now serve only as their backrest.
This street had four shops of handmade shoemakers. In 2006,our shop was shut because the property was sold off. Now,only one shop remains on this street and well,we are here on the footpath, says Prasad.
He shares that in his shop about 20-25 shoemakers,all from Bihar,used to work together. We used to share the rent,bills and the space. When the shop was sold off,all the others scattered around the city. Some left the trade and some became roadside cobblers. We decided to stick around here, says Dayal,who together with Ram used to work in the adjacent shop. Their shop was shut about four years ago and since then they have been sitting with Prasad.
But the shift in their position has not affected the shoemakers much,they say. There is no dearth in demand. Of course,many brands of readymade shoes are now sold in the market but that does not affect us. Just like all kinds of readymade clothes are available in the market but still tailors are in demand, says Prasad.
Prasad and his companions make anything between Rs 1,300 and Rs 5,000 per shoe. The shoes we make are very durable. They will last about four years,so theres a price to that. Of course,its nothing compared to how much people shell out for the shoes inside the fancy store, says Ram. Prasad,who likes to quote Kabir and talk about the gems found in scriptures,says they dont have any complains. We were happy when we sat inside the shops and we are happy now too. Of course we miss the camaraderie. In the shops we used to be so many working together,laughing and sharing insights, he explains,adding that he will never stop.
The fear of displacement,however,does come over sometimes. Sometimes those who have bought this shop come and check and we hear of plans to tear the place down and make something new. Then we will have to pack up and move,but we will cross the bridge when we come to it, says Prasad.