Fifty-two-year- old Gopi had been working on a Chennai sidewalk for the past 30 years. Maybe, the tree that was a part of his handmade work hanging on one of its branches, witnessed the ups and downs in this bamboo weaver’s business. A native of Chennai, he inherited traditional family business from his father. There is hardly any work these days. A lone man, carrying of a business that is a thing of the past, shows how things have changed. Shail profiles life on the streets, in the regular column, exclusively for Different Truths.
“We all have our own life to pursue, our own kind of dream to be weaving, and we all have the power to make wishes come true, as long as we keep believing.” ~ Louisa May Alcott, American novelist and poet best known as the author of the novel Little Women
Often I have walked by the pavement, which has a huge bamboo pole and a bamboo-woven sheet hung on the wall beside it. Many times, I have seen a lone man sit on an old, worn out plastic chair on the footpath. Very rarely I have seen workers working on the bamboo sticks. But, the place resonates of an age-old ambiance of its own. It seems to claim that particular area of the sidewalk as its very own, owned as if by the bamboo mats and the worn-out bamboo trunk.
I met the lone man, 52-year- old Gopi. He had been working on this very sidewalk for the past 30 years. Perhaps the tree that was a part of his handmade work hanging on one of its branches had witnessed the ups and downs in this bamboo weaver’s business.
A native of Chennai, Gopi had inherited this business from his father. So, is this a family business of sorts, I ask of him.
“Yes, my father used to make bamboo baskets, the art, that he had learnd from his father and I started making bamboo window panes.”
Did you take to this business straight away or had you other interests?
“I used to help my father whenever he used to make baskets. But, I opened a small shop, which sold and repaired grinders.”
Why did you not continue with it then?
“My father’s business picked up speed and I felt that I could benefit more if I went back to our family profession, so I came back and ever since have been working here.”
So, how is business, I asked him.
(He looks around sadly) “As you can see, there is not much work around. And, I cannot do work for small orders because I need to pay the same amount for the same number of people, who work for me. So, I call my workers only when there is something big, which does not occur often now-a- days.”
But, this kind of handwork is usually in demand, isn’t it?
“It used to be. Not much now.”
Is it a seasonal demand?
“Yes, it is. In summer business picks up. Otherwise, I just come here and sit waiting for business.”
Who are your customers?
“Most of them are people who pass by this area. This is a busy road as you can see. So, people walking by and going in vehicles pass by, see my number pinned on the tree, make a note and call me.”
So, is this is your working place or do you have to go to the customer’s place?
“No, I work here as it gives more visibility to my business.”
Do you have any siblings? Are they too in the same business?
Do you know of more families who do this kind of bamboo weaving business?
“Yes, there are a few families. But, they are all doing this as a side business as there is not much scope for small time bamboo weavers like us.”
Then, why don’t you all get together since you say that there are very few of them like you?
“That is not possible. Each family has its own needs and priorities and function accordingly.”
What about your family? Your children?
“I have two boys. One is doing MBA and the other one is studying for Marine.”
Do they have any reservations regarding your job?
(For the first time, I see a spark in his eyes) “How can they have any reservations? After all, it is this very job that has funded their education and their lives until now. In fact, whenever they have the time and I have an order they also help.”
What about your wife?
“My wife used to help around with my work quite some time back but now, due to slackness in my business, she works under another weaver.”
(Did I see a hint of sadness in his eyes when he said that?)
Has demonetisation affected your business?
“Not much, I should say. Those who want to buy these bamboo window panes do it anyway.”
When he saw me jotting this down, he immediately said, “Maybe, there could be a slight problem about getting currency notes to pay for the purchases.”
Have you studied?
“Yes, I have studied till PUC.”
Has ‘not studying further’ handicapped you?
“Not exactly because I was anyway going to carry on with my family profession and this does not require educational qualifications.”
What would you say to persons wanting to take up this profession?
He smiled. “See, one cannot just like that take up this profession. You need to have a lot of physical strength other than rigorous training that is required. Not all can do it. I come from one such family that is why I am able to do it.”
Are you religious?
He thought over a wee bit. “Sort of. When my family goes to the temple I go too, otherwise, my mind does not go there at all.”
What do you have to say to the young generation today?
“Study well. And work for your living diligently.”
And, for the public in general?
“See, money is needed. Work for it but don’t burn it away on useless pursuits. Work hard and use money cautiously.”
Throughout the conversation, Gopi, the bamboo weaver, stuttered as he spoke but his demeanour spoke only of his straightforward, hard working nature and his acknowledgment of life’s blessings.
Photos by the author.
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