The shoe maker of Pondicherry
I had visited this erstwhile French colony in 2004, and just around the corner from the boutique hotel (now undergoiong reparations) was a hole in the wall leather worker and shoe maker. I remember pointing out to the model I wanted and within a day the sandals were ready, which I use still. The price was 600 inr ( about 20 usd of that day)..
Rue suffren is a leafy street with French mansions on both side of the street. A distinct French touch to it. You know that you are in India and at the same time, wonder where in India you are.
I remembered the shoemaker but did not remember where his shop was. While exploring the street, taking pictures of the various French colonial homes, I found myself standing in front of the hole in the wall, hand made shoe factory that is what it was any way. Two workers bent over the task, and the owner, in conversation with two westerners buying a pair of open sandals for the heat and comfort of this country.
I pointed out to the same model, and asked the price, 600 INR he replied..( about 11 usd of today)…then I told him the story after the westerners had departed.
Four years ago, I was here and I bought a pair made and the price was 600 and I was expecting to hear the price of shoes have gone up to 800 or 900 rupees.. He looks at my face carefully and makes a mental nod as if he had recognized it.. he said.. Yes it is still 600 inr and I have not put up the price.
An Indian customer comes for repair of her sandals and he talks to her for while and then turns his attention to me.. I remember your face now. How long before you can make another pair for me? Tomorrow evening it would be ready, said he.
And I realized that this man is one honest man.. in a country where Le Meridien charges 750 rupees per day for Internet access, The cunning autorikshaw wallahs charging whatever they want and then some more. Asking around for the price of handmade belts… 200 rupees sir.. what? They are being sold for 600 to 900 rupees at stores as Casablanca.. I realixed that he is content with his business which gives him a good livelihood and that he does have to be avaricious like the autorikshaw driver to try and extrat a few rupees and thus the bad feelings as well of the people visiting Pondicherry.
I ordered two pairs of sandals.. one to leave in Paris and the other in Miami; five pairs of sandals for my friends, all in all a princely sum of 3800 rupees for seven pairs of sandals handmade by Mr Shoe maker of Pondicherry. I will pick the products of his manual dexterity, which I was privileged to enjoy for the past four years, occasionally when I wore the sandals from Pondicherry.. I will pick them up on my way out of the city of Pondicherry.. taxi to madras and Air France to Paris…
The next day, after attending an exhibition at Annexe Colambani of Alliance Francaise, I came by this shop to get my shoulder bag repaired, and an extra latch added. After he finished his work, I wanted to pay.. he said: small small work sir, no need to pay..
Can you believe this is in India, in a tourist town?
I will find out more about him and his family and left him my visiting card which he displayed prominently. On the wall was an advertisement for a taxi service , since it might be his friend, I wanted to ask him for the taxi service, and his reply stunned me.. Sir, he is my friend, but he always charges the foreigners two hundred rupees extra so I think you should go to the Taxi Stand and organize a ride for yourself. Which I did and was able to get an airconditioned Ambassador to take us to Madras , into the city, to visit our good friend Srini and his family before going to the international departure section of the Madras airport…
M Mumurty, Give and Take Leather Products, No 20 rue suffren, Pondichery. Mobile Phone 9790667710