Sunday, June 17, 2012

Cobblers, Tyre Sandals

'Cobbler' has more than one meaning.  One: A sweetened ice drink, usually made from fruit and wine. Two: One who makes or mends boots and shoes.  This post is related to the second one.

Cobblers are an integral part of our society, along with barbers, tailors, doctors and so on.  Some prefer to be called as 'shoemakers' instead of 'cobblers', the same way, barbers like to be called 'hair dressers' or tailors like to be called as 'dress makers', etc.  Why, even the 'housewife' is now wanting to be called a 'homemaker'! Fancy terms, but their jobs remains the same old one! 

He used to sit on Sayyaji Rao Road pavement [photo taken 5 years ago]

In many cities, including Mysore, some cobblers are found sitting on the pavement to earn their livelihood by repairing footwear.  They are a godsend for passers by who may snap a strap or sole on their way.  He will say, 'poor sole' instead of 'poor soul'!   They choose shady trees. Tree trunks are their back rests.  They make it their work place, for which even they have to lubricate the cop's palm, if you see what I mean.  There was a certain street cobbler who had even grown a few plants around 'his workplace tree'!

These pavement cobblers are usually poverty-striken, but some that are enterprising and have enough financial resources, open a shop and sell the products employing a few cobblers.

The way cobblers on the pavement look at the marching feet of pedestrians on busy pavements  in anticipation of some business is fun to watch.  Feet dragging with a snapped slipper is a pleasant sight for the cobbler.  The delight is mutual!  The waiting cobbler knows he will be spotted and that 'business' will find its way to him!

People who have suddenly snapped a strap while on an outing, know how annoying it is!  Many of us have this experience at least once.  When we have been caught in places where they are not found, we have even hand-carried the [repairable] footwear and reached our destinations barefoot!  Or, sometimes, when the snapped sandal was very old and beyond repair, we have even gone straight to the shoe shop and bought a new pair and happily discarded the 'gone pair' then and there!

He was on the pavement near Town Hall

Unlike now, I emphasize 'unlike now', in the olden days, people used many things until they were stretched to the maximum limits possible.  It could be a pen, pencil, clothes, umbrellas, watches, shirt buttons, bicycle tires, sandals, shoes, or whatever.  A thing was discarded only when its value and service was squeezed out to the fullest.  There were/are repairers also for all things.  A thing was replaced only after the old one was discarded.  No extra thing was unnecessarily bought.  It was not about 'scrooging', but being judicious.  A new pair of footwear was bought only when the old one was beyond repair or had become too 'small' for comfort.

Tyre Sandals
My father used to get his sandals hand-stitched at a shop on Vinobha Road, Shivarampet from the shoe-maker who had a good reputation for his workmanship.  He specialized in making very good sandals using good leather and discarded car tires from which soles were cut.   The measurement of the feet were taken by the cobbler himself.  I forget his name.  He would usually deliver the finished item late, as is probably their 'professional wont'!

[The tire sole chappals were like this, but thicker]

My father would use the same pair for many years as they were so durable and a testimony for the cobbler's workmanship.  For the same reason he made me such custom made ones also when I was in high school [class 8-10 as there was no code for footwear].  Because of their had hard soles I was reluctant to wear them.  New ones could not be worn continuously because the stiffness of new leather would scrape off the skin and cause wounds.  So it had to be softened down by applying castor oil and keeping away for a few days.  The tire sole also had to be 'seasoned' by walking as it had to be made to take the natural curve at places where the feet bent as we took walking steps.  We felt comfortable only after it got flexible!  Footwear has to be flexible.

The neatly hand-stitched tire chappals of Shivarampet gave a lot of 'mileage'.  In those days, we walked quite a lot, again, unlike now.   My favourite alternative was the Hawaii Slippers made of rubber.  They remain my favourite even today, for many good reasons.

My favourite 'padukas'!  Lunar's brand Size 10. 
[click on link to know what a 'paduka' is]

Web-surfing about tire chappals showed me interesting results.  There are innovative people around, eh!  Look at this!  Here is a video demo [1m:46s] how to make them.  

     I remember a few cobblers who walked the streets calling loudly 'chapli repairy' (repairing footwear) to be heard inside the houses.  When someone had some job for him, he would be called.  If his quotation was agreeable, the job was got done on the spot.

Cricketers used to wear Buckskin boots in old times.  They were in vogue until as recently as the 1990s after which time shoe-making technology rapidly got improvized and mechanized what with good synthetic material became available and also popular, almost matching that of leather, if not better. I also used to wear these boots when I began playing cricket in the late 1970s and I used a few pairs for nearly 20 years.  My last one was stitched by one Sitaram in Bangalore.  I had gone there to give measurement when our team was there for league matches.  

Sitaram had earned a good reputation and expertise as a shoe maker.  His shop was near the old Bangalore Jail. Sitaram was especially famous among cricketers who were using traditional cricket boots.  They were before the 'sponsorship era'.  As such, the players would get them stitched by Sitaram.  Famous names included B.S.Chandrasekhar, Roger Binny, G.R.Viswanath, etc.  Vijayprakash, who also played for Karnataka and who was in our team, introduced me to Sitaram.  He made a pair for me beautifully.  It was very comfortable, better than the ready made ones I had previously bought, but since they were a trifle heavy, I grew reluctant to use them.  Later, I exchanged the pair with my team mate Ajay, whose shoe-size and mine were similar.  He felt comfortable with them.  I started using his shoes. For replacing the worn out studs, I used to borrow from my friend Subramaniam, an anvil belonging to his grandfather who was known to make his own shoes at home  I liked doing the small repairs myself.   

[Image of the Cobbler's anvil, web-grabbed]

Mahatma Gandhi was an expert cobbler and has stitched many pairs himself.  There is much information on the web about it. Here is just one. Click here.  This is an interesting link!

Here is is wearing simple leather chappals, which he probably made himself.  He is standing in front of 10, Downing Street, London in 1931. 

[The last pair of buckskin cricket boots I used - it was Ajay's]

Ready-made, 'Firefly' brand, leather sole, buckskin uppers.  I had to use good insoles for cushioning and also to prevent the sharp studs from piercing through the leather sole into the feet!  Ajay later left cricket and moved out of Mysore for greener pastures.  I used that pair for many matches and was very comfortable with them because they were lighter.  By then, I had begun to find the new rubber-studded shoes to be even lighter, more flexible and hence more comfortable and no hassles with stud-maintenance or getting stitched to order.  They were durable as well.  New technology had already pushed the traditional buckskin boots into oblivion.

Whatever, cobblers on the pavement will continue to be available till such time the administration prohibits and chases them away.

Adjacent to Curzon Park, on the pavement.

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