Slum …Dog …Cobbler!!!

 By     N. Balasubramanian  ( Balu….) 

Not minding the rough terrain in the paddy field, Vellasamy was walking fast. It was early morning and the sun had already come up to give hopes to the people ready for the day. For Vellasamy, passing every day in itself a Herculean task, so he didn’t care much about the “orange” ball beaming its rays from the distant horizon. 

The walking was getting tough although he was not carrying any head load. All that he had was a faded leather bag with many stitches all over it. It was hanging as a matter factly, from his bony shoulders. Vellusamy a poor Cobbler with a wrinkled sunken face , was running holding a brass tiffin-box in his left hand and a shoulder bag swinging like a pendulum. The only support he had in his life was a long irregular walking stick as tall as him. Vellasamy wore a skeleton look, stomach caved in, ribs protruding from his chest, face unshaven, and his unruly curly hair dry as if it had never seen even water. All his hair greyed at few places yet abundant , he was only just 35 years old. He had no particular reason to keep count of his age anyway. He looked fragile, as if he never had a proper meal anytime in his life. He was so black, dark skinned, one may wonder why he was named ‘Vellasamy ‘. He was wearing a dirty lungi down up to his knees, secured at the waist with a broad green colored belt with a small purse attached to it. He was wearing a loose torn full sleeved shirt gifted long back to him by a well-wisher. The dirty towel on his shoulder usually helped him to wipe the sweat droplets on his forehead. Vellasamy was hurrying fast, turning back every now and then, giving a welcome whistle to a skinny dog which was following him faithfully.  Only ten more minutes to walk. Vellasamy would be at his usual location ….at the street corner near a bus stand at the entrance to the nearby residential colony. He is the one & only ‘ Aasthana ‘ ( permanent ) cobbler for that area. A small tarpaulin tent put up close to a compound wall near the bus stand was where he squats to work. The tent had some old car tyres lying nearby, a small out of shape aluminium bucket having a rubber belt strip instead of the lifting handle. In the corner there was an old dirty umbrella with a broken handle. Vellasamy greatly relied on the umbrella during noon to protect him  from the scorching sun light.

He dropped his shoulder bag on the floor just inside the tent, gave a sigh of relief…. Looked around, took out one by one all items from his bag. First came an old box which contained small nails, then a box with rivets, a wide bladed knife, couple of shoe polish containers, one small shoe polishing brush and another two more big ones, a small hammer, a strange shaped anvil, a coil of twine threads and a ball of black wax. He positioned all those items at its respective places, stretched an old gunny bag and sat on it. Yes, now he is ready for his job …has to wait endlessly for his esteemed ‘troubled’ customers with their broken chappals or shoes. 
His dog took its usual place near him, uninterestingly barking at the passersby once in a while to reveal its presence.   Yes, unless he toils throughout the day, rice will not be cooked in the evening when he returned home. As he took out a bundle of beedis, lighted one and started puffing the smoke vigorously, a sort of energy charged through him. Just then he heard the bell of an approaching bicycle. The man on the cycle threw a pair of chappals at him, asking him to repair the broken side straps. Vellasamy looked at the sky, as if he is greeting the GOD for this job…and took those chappals in hand and started his work.
This was his ‘boni ‘(first job) of the day. Swiftly he took the needle to start stitching the straps. The stitching was not coming out ok, then he stopped for a while, and lavishly applied the wax on the twine thread and began to stitch again …now the job was done very neatly and he gave it back to the cyclist.
The cyclist threw a couple of one-rupee coins at him without even asking Vellasamy & left the place. At that time, a scooter stopped by.  Vellasamy knew that man, a regular customer for getting his shoes polished.  Vellasamy did his job well and without even checking, accepted the 10-rupee notes and put it in his waist purse. He was happy that as soon as he came, he has already had two customers today and earned some money. This was not enough, he knew. He has to continue till late evening, and then only he can return home with enough money to feed his wife and a little child . Many a day he had returned without much earnings, disappointing his young wife KaRuppayi, who would be expectantly standing near his hut at the slum covering carefully her blouse-less top with a brown colored saree. She had only two sarees to change …. though in poverty she was quite attractive …she was a neighbor’s envy in that slum! 
It was time for a school bus to come & stop at the bus stop near his tent ……he picked up a chat with the boys and girls waiting there and later when the bus left, he started repairing the left-over pending jobs of the previous day. He was getting tired … he badly needed something to quench his thirst. He pulled down the tent cover kept rolled up on the tent. He went to the nearby tea stall to have a bun and a cup of tea. This was his usual breakfast. He quickly came back to his tent and continued with his job. It was nearing noon, the sun started showing its wrath on his tent. Vellasamy opened his tattered umbrella and kept it at his side so that there is some shade for him to work comfortably. He toiled a lot with his pending jobs. Now the time for his lunch. He opened his brass tiffin-box …. all it had was some rice soaked in the mixture of water and buttermilk, a piece of cut onion and a couple of green
chilies. Those were his usual ‘perfect meal ‘every day. He finished it slowly enjoying every grain of rice
and drank the rice water from the bottom of the tiffin-box. He washed his hands and settled to light a beedi and smoked out his tiredness leaning comfortably on the tyre nearby.  Till evening, the day went off very well he could manage to make thirty-five rupees doing some more odd repairs.  As the day was going on like this, suddenly at 5 O’ clock, a car came that way and stopped near his shop. A teen age girl came out of the car with a school bag in her hand. She looked well dressed, appeared to be from a wealthy family. Vellasamy thought to himself that this girl must be studying in a big school. The girl came to him and handed over him her school bag for stitching. Vellasamy surveyed the bag and wanted to tell the cost of repair but as he saw a fifty rupee note in her hand, he kept silent and decided to first stitch the bag. He took special care to stitch all the damages, did a little bit of polishing with a clean cloth, scrutinized if all ok and gave it to her. The girl gave him the fifty rupees note and asked him to take his money and return the balance. For a moment, he thought he will ask for twenty rupees, but didn’t. He just told the girl to give whatever she feels like. His out stretched arm was eagerly waiting …. the girl certainly was kind hearted, felt pity on his poorly looks and gave him thirty- five rupees from her purse. Vellasamy was so happy ….. But something in him, made him to return a ten rupee note back to her. Yes, he wanted to take twenty rupees initially & finally accepted an extra five rupees and returned the balance to the girl. 
As the sun began to set, he closed the umbrella, kept it aside. Cleared the work area and started putting back all his belongings into his shoulder bag. Took the tiffin-box and hurried back again towards the paddy field towards his home in the nearby slum … KaRuppayi will be waiting for him, he imagined, holding their child on her hip ……. His journey back to his work spot will start again the next morning as usual. 
The Dog, the Cobbler eagerly ran towards their Slum holding tightly today’s earnings …. To enjoy a good meal at dinner!!!!! ….  the life would  continue!

About The Author 

N Balasubramanian, retired Electrical Engineer, a product of REC, Calicut. He has more than 35 years of experience in Electrical Maintenance as well as in projects in reputed Steel making companies both in India and abroad. Presently leading a relaxed life … Hobbies – to watch movies, reading, & very fond of Chocolates and Ice Creams!