One tends to notice shoe shiners on roads only when one’s shoes are dusty. Holed under some hill scape with their paraphernalia or squatted on road sides they can be spotted at some particular places on The Ridge, or The Mall or in the Lower Bazar.
To a common man they are all from one caste or community and so I too believed. Until 70+ Rohtash Dhaania, supporting attractive whiskers and beard explained to me the difference in the three communities named Jhatavs, who take out animal skin;, Raigars, who colour them; and cobblers who make shoes.
The three are from Guru Ravi Dass’s clan, he says. Working as a cobbler since 1962, Rohtash recalls the good old days of joint Punjab. He recalls that at one time there were 500+ cobblers in and around Shimla. The number has come down to 150 or so.
“But all cobblers,” he said, “do not belong to the same community. Many in the profession belong to other castes.”
Now that he has been in the profession for the last over 54 years, he says that all his children re were well settled but in other professions. “They don’t like this menial work,” he says.
He recalls occupying a prime spot near the Church on The Ridge for long. But he still needs to continue working to make the both ends meet. “Barring the tourist season, the income is paltry, he confides. “Mostly people now wear sports shoes and very few believe in under taking repairs and mending.”
During inclement weather we need to survive on savings which are often hard to spare. With a sparkle in his eyes and firm in his work, Rohtash is not shy of his profession. He remembers the odd and good days as well, which have made him strong enough.
It was easy for him to know that I was from media industry as I clicked a few pictures before breaking into conversation him. I tempted him by saying I will show him the coverage. But he waved his head saying that he was illiterate. But I have a promise to keep and will show him a printed copy of this article.