Living examples of dignity of labour on Dimapur footpaths
S. Henlly Phom
Dimapur, August 18
Bearing the heat of the scorching sun and waiting for customers from early morning to 6 pm has become a daily routine for the cobblers around the city in Dimapur. These cobblers, mostly from Bihar, had come to the city in order to fend for their near and dear ones which they have left behind in their native towns or villages. The skill of the cobbler lies in his hands with the patience to handle tools accordingly. You will get a chance to see the procedure for repairing shoes and sandals as well as polishing of the same on the roadside. The cobblers simply have a box which contains all the tools and instruments needed for their work. They do not possess any permanent structure but they sit on the footpath, in such a way that they are not a nuisance to pedestrians.
One such cobbler is Gobinder Ram, 55, who has been mending shoes for the past 35 years in Dimapur. Hailing from Bihar, this man has been sitting in front of St. Mary Montessori School on Nyamo Lotha Road, polishing and mending shoes. He had come to the city to earn his livelihood as also for his dependents back home.
With no other skills, he took to polishing and mending footwear which has now become his full time job. Pretty contented with his work, he has neither complaints nor desire to look for some other job.
A similar case is that of Shankar Prasad, who also has been in this profession for the past 20 years. The skills of a cobbler were passed on by his father. There has been no turning back for these two men when they left their family members back in their villages. There are lots more like them around the city sitting in some corner with tools in their hands, awaiting prospective customers.
With no other skills and option, they chose this profession which has been a “blessing in disguise” as they are able to support their dependents. Working eleven hours a day, they earn Rs. 300 to Rs 400 per day and are able to send between Rs 3,000 and Rs 5,000 monthly to their dependents.
Their only expenses are on the house rent, food, and personal clothing. In addition, they spend about Rs 300 a month on procuring polish, strings for stitching shoes, mini nails, dendrite/glue etc. They have also made friends with their customers and so do not mind when their daily ones bargain for the repair of their shoes. The only hurdle they face is when there is a downpour and on bandh days.
When they are at work, they appear miserable, haggard and deprived. But an interaction with them makes you realize the “dignity of labor” and the contented life they are living. “Since there are no takers among the local people for this kind of profession, it has been easier for us (cobblers) to earn our livelihood,” says Prasad.
By contrast, a large number of locals, both literate as well as illiterate, are killing their time with unemployment.
EMN spoke with twenty unemployed youth, both boys and girls on being “a cobbler”. A majority of them (12 at least) said the thought had never crossed their minds that they could earn a living in this manner. Three boys thought the suggestion was preposterous. They said “We feel embarrassed to sit at the roadside with shoe and a polish in our hand or do a manual job”.
The remaining five, all boys said if trained on how to use the tools they could try their hands at the profession.
They said “we are told about the dignity of labor but when we don’t know how and what to do, how do we put this into practice”.
Its not only the dignity of labor that the cobbler teaches us.
Next time you see them on the road, take a moment to observe the picture of dedication and concentration they paint. All this as they studiously hammer a nail or two, glue back a lost heel or stitching back our “soles” (pun intended)