When I was young, maybe starting at 8 or 9, I always told people I wanted to be an international businessman. I didn’t really know what that meant, but I imagined it as a pretty glamorous job. Traveling first class. Staying at fancy hotels in cities like Tokyo, Cairo, Paris. Eating exotic foods. Wearing expensive suits. Discussing business in massive conference rooms in offices that were on the top floors of skyscrapers.
Now, I’m an international businessman (right?), and it’s not exactly like what had imagined as a kid. Here’s how it really is…
Three of us gather in my small hotel room in a village in India. The 2 single beds take up most of the room, but there’s a very small glass side table near the window that we use as our conference table. Abbas, mohinders' man in India, and Raghu, the director of our supplier, sit on vinyl chairs, and I sit on the bed. This is where our international business gets done! We discuss shoe production, packaging for shipping, accounting and other things related to the business.
Is this what I expected? Nope. Am I disappointed? Absolutely not…this is great!! And, by the way, I am staying in the nicest hotel in town!
EXPERT LEATHER WORKERS
When I used to think of a shoemaker or an expert leather worker, I imagined an older guy, maybe an English gentleman with a mustache, wearing a leather or canvas apron over a nice button up shirt. I imagined him standing at a large, tall work-table with a few interesting looking tools laid out on the table. The workshop is clean and neat with tools hanging from the wall or put away in drawers. I don’t think this was merely my imagination…I’m sure I’ve seen several ads for leather products or shoes that have featured this exact scene!
The artisans that handcraft mohinders don’t exactly fit that mold. First difference, both male and female artisans work together to make our shoes. Second difference, no leather or canvas aprons. Many of the men wear beat up t-shirts and a pair of slacks or shorts. The women wear saris and dresses of all different colors and patterns. Third difference, no fancy workshop. Their workshop is one room of their small 2-room homes. The room typically has a television, stacks of shoe components, and sometimes large sacks containing rolled up hides. They pound the leather directly on the stone floor of their home using hand-forged tools. They usually cut the leather on stone blocks or hardened tree stumps. And finally, they work sitting down on the floor cross-legged.
These differences between the stereotype and the mohinders’ craftsmen and women don’t mean anything when it comes to skill and quality of craftsmanship. Our artisans are unbelievably skilled at working with leather and making shoes. I’ll take them in a match with that stodgy old English gentleman any day!
- Michael, the peddler