Coronavirus outbreak: It's getting worse for cobblers in Andheri

Updated: Apr 01, 2020, 07:23 IST | Gaurav Sarkar | Mumbai

Cobblers, shoe-shiners in Andheri area left to fend for themselves

Pic/Ashish Rane
Pic/Ashish Rane

Cobblers and shoe-shine workers, who lived hand-to-mouth working at shops opposite the bus depot in Andheri East, now can't afford to even take a bath at the public toilet. Abandoned by the shop owners, the daily wagers said they are barely surviving on the food offered by passers-by.

It costs Rs 20 to take a bath in a nearby public bathroom and another R5 for the water," said Mintoo, who hails from Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, and has been working at one of the shops in Andheri East since 2004. Earlier, they earned up to R450 making three shoes a day, but after the lockdown, the owners shut the shops and left the workers to fend for themselves with no earning.

Told to look after the shops, around 12-15 of them have erected makeshift tents with plastic sheets and cardboards on the footpath nearby. They are waiting for either normalcy to return or a way back to their hometowns. "We used to make anywhere between R250-450 daily earlier, but after the lockdown we have not earned a single rupee," said Mintoo. "The owners have left us with the responsibility of the shop… They don't even come to see how we are living."

The workers are living in makeshift tents on footpath in Andheri (E). Pic/Ashish Rane
The workers are living in makeshift tents on footpath in Andheri (E). Pic/Ashish Rane

Mintoo added that their daily expenditure was about R200, which he spent on food, drinking water and to use the public toilet. "I cannot take a bath every day now because I don't have any money. We were not given any warning… just left to fend for ourselves." Some of them have so far managed to take bath once every three days with whatever money they had in savings or by borrowing from other workers or the person in charge at the public toilet.

"Passers-by offer us food… this is the only way we can afford to get something to eat," said Bhondu Lal, a 75-year-old cobbler, adding that two vehicles have regularly been coming at least a day for the past week and giving them food. Vimal Kumar, another worker, said they are often left with no choice but to relieve themselves on the roadside as the public toilets open for a few hours only. The closest public toilet behind the bus depot was found closed when mid-day visited the location.

His neighbour, Pyare Lal, 72, is not very optimistic about the situation getting any better in the days to come. "At present, we are at least managing to take bath once three days, but in the coming days we might not be able to even use the loo and relieve ourselves on the road or by the bushes." A moment later, a white Innova pulled up and asked the workers if they needed food. Mintoo walked up to the car and was served a plate of dal rice. "This is what our life is nowadays, and it's only bound to become worse in the future. Hum yahaan pe pade hai, pade hi rahenge," he said. Pyaare Lal added, "We'll wait for the lockdown to end and see if there is any way to take a bus back to our villages."

Meanwhile, they are happy that their families back home are safe, even though they are facing hardships here.

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