City Landmark – Premier Shoe Factory, Sadar Bazaar, Gurgaon
The old time jewel.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
There are places in the National Capital Region where every little or big landmark gives an illusion that it must have come up around the year 2000. Dwarka, for instance. Or Indirapuram in Ghaziabad. Or parts of Gurgaon.
But here’s something since 1938–a shoemaker’s establishment.
“That Singer is more than a hundred years old,” mutters shoemaker Jawaharlal Sherawat, gesturing towards the rusty black sewing machine installed behind him. “And this ladder is 80 years old.”
Taking out a “rubber stamp” from its plastic cover, he says in a hushed whisper full of awe, “This is our muhar (seal)… Premier Shoe Factory, Gurgaon.”
Mr Sherawat’s footwear workshop is ensconced in an old, crumbling, half-abandoned mansion in Gurugram’s Sadar Bazaar. It is as crammed and dusty as a museum’s ignored warehouse. The shelves and closets picturesquely betray the ravages of a weather-beaten time. Some of the precious furniture is treated as if it is nothing but junk. It’s heartbreaking to spot a lovely wooden chair stacked with dozens of spare steel plates belonging to a chhole-bhathure stall outside.
The only new thing here appears to be a wall decked with colorful jootis (shoes) that Mr Sherawat made recently. The elderly gentleman credits father Parbhati Ram as the shop’s founder. Scraping off excessive wood from the sole of a shoe-in-progress, he suddenly pauses and starts making a calculation on his fingers. A minute later he concludes that his father set up the business “when India was still ruled by angrez.”
In his 70s, Mr Sherawat himself is like a monument. He started working with his late father as a lad of 15, which makes him arguably among the oldest surviving shoemakers in the entire Delhi region. “Earlier we had kaarigars (employees) …. Pitaji died in 2007… now it’s only me,” he says, smiling, and shaking his head. The elderly man’s children have strayed to other professions—-his daughter is a lawyer. Keeping aside the half-made shoe, Mr Sherawat stands up, trembles a little, and takes out a white leather bag from a closet showing “certificates” issued to his father from the “old time officers who wore the shoes made by pitaji.”
He produces a laminated document. Signed by Air Commodore K Rajagopal, dated 1994, it says: “Shri Parbhati Ram s/o Shri Birdha Ram has been making shoes for Officers and Airmen of Air Force Station, Gurgaon for many years. I have known him since June 1991, and have found him to be an excellent shoe-maker whose workmanship is of the highest order.”
The way we were