Our Familiar Cobbler
He had a tumour-like growth the size of a ping pong ball on his right forearm below his wrist. I was a child and used to feel intrigued by that bulge in his hand and I remember that once I asked my father what it is. As his arm went back and forth and his black or brown brush moved over our leather shoes, they would gradually regain their shine. It was quite a spectacle for me in those days. Later on, when I was big enough to polish my boots myself, I tried to use all his tricks.
Every Sunday, Surya, the cobbler, would visit our home and enquire if we had shoes that need repair or a polish. His smile was disarming and everyone loved him. Like so many others from his village in Bihar, Surya migrated to Calcutta in search of a livelihood. He had fine shoe-mending skills and was in great demand in the Maniktala area of north Calcutta in those days. Surjo Muchi, that is how people used to refer to him, had a hard life but it could not erase the endearing smile that he always had. It is because of that ever-grinning face that I still remember Surya, our good old cobbler forty years after I saw him for the last time.
One day Surjo Muchi just disappeared. We thought he took a leave and had gone to his native village on his annual vacation. He took leave every year for a month or so. But this time, Surya never came back and after a few years we left that locality. We say, ‘Let the cobbler stick to his last’. Surya indeed did and I still hold in my heart a vivid impression of his brilliant smile.