A Cobbler Pauses for a Snap

Indian Street Craftsman

Shoe and Tools, Hyderabad

A few tools of the India cobbler’s trade. Out of the rain and direct sun, this tiny nook had the sense it was passed down from cobbler to apprentice. Modern touches included a small fan and light jerry-rigged to the building’s electrical system.

In India, our way was smoothed by some gentlemen with such specialized skill and professionalism that we did not need to share much common language for them to do us great service. Their intelligence, experience, and a few gestures served to move projects forward.

It is with sadness I must report: we weren’t even able to learn their names in many cases.

As a way of thanking them, and the many thousands who support our travels unknowingly, by simply doing their jobs, we’re highlighting a few of these craftsmen.

Cobbler, Abids Road, Hyderabad

His workshop is a dark slit between two buildings. A shoe-shop owner was kind enough to show me where to find him, and this cobbler put down other work to shine my shoes before our sailing-club dinner with Verghese Jacob.

Cobbler at Work In Hyderabad

The cobbler at work on my right shoe. He first performed a dirt-removal step, then oiled them, and finally gave them a low-shine buffing, perfect for the original finish, which was almost impossible to see. “Leather very good,” he could manage in English. “Must treat better.” He makes the polishing motion. “Every week.” Click to enlarge the image.

Barber, Rani Lakshmibai Marg, Lucknow

It’s a brave man who cuts a woman’s hair in the open street in front of the Uttar Pradesh High Court while a twenty other men—almost all of them lawyers, known experts at everything—look on. This gentleman handled the job with aplomb.

Alison Gets A Haircut In Lucknow

We used more than one barber in India, but this gentleman did all the lawyers of Lucknow proud. He had enough English to make some haircut patter, including “Your hair, some black, some white.” Alison commented back “Your beard, also, some black, some white.” Click to enlarge the image.

Parcel Maker, Highway 1, Gorakhpur

Parcel Maker Fitting Linen to Package, Gorakhpur

Lala makes his first moves. The stone is his regular work surface. Out of the camera’s view is a plastic shopping bag containing his tools and materials like newspaper, linen, and sealing wax. Click the picture to enlarge.

We asked a handful of merchants with stores in the vicinity of the Main Post Office in Gorakhpur if they would ready our package for shipping. All waved us away.

“Find Lala,” they said, then gestured in the direction of the post office gate.

Lala (we presume that’s his name) was the right man: he set fresh newspaper on the ground to keep our parcel clean, sewed it up in linen, sealed the thread with red wax and a brass stamp, and then accompanied us though the posting process.

Parcel Maker Hand Stitching Linen, Gorakhpur

In the second phase, Lala stitches the binding around the package. Part of his professionalism is getting–and keeping–the linen tight around the package. We wouldn’t want it to jam the works of the automated handlers in the western world’s airmail system. Click to enlarge the image.

Applying Sealing Wax to a Postal Package, Gorakhpur

In the third step of his process, Lala discourages tampering by loading the seams with wax. The monogram on the signet? I think it’s “MGM.” I wonder: how the customs officials will reseal this package if they choose to open it? Click to enlarge the image

On the backs of skilled labor,