Unlocking a secret

WHEN SOMETHING GOES WRONG with a product in the UK, it is usually simpler and cheaper to discard it and buy a new one. In my experience of visiting India many times since 1994, I have discovered that there is often someone, who can mend what would normally be thrown away in the UK. Only recently, I spotted a poorly dressed man sitting by the side of MG Road (in Bangalore). He was painstakingly repairing what looked like totally decrepit umbrellas.

We use combination locks (‘number locks’ in Indian English) to secure our baggage whilst travelling. In December 2022 when we were in Panjim (Goa), we found one of ours, which would not open, even when using the correct combination. It looked as if it had become corroded.

Because we have great faith in the ingenuity of Indian craftsmen, we took it to a locksmith in Panjim. He was unwilling to work on our lock, and another lock seller advised us to throw it away. Undeterred, we carried the defective item to Bangalore.

In the Commercial Street district of Bangalore we approached a couple of locksmiths, who were unwilling to spend time on our lock. A third one accepted it, and said he would have a go. We told him the combination, and left him whilst he fiddled with the lock as if it were as enjoyable as a Rubik Cube. On the 2nd of January 2023, we set off on a long trip, returning to Bangalore on the 15th of February 2023.

A few days later, we visited the locksmith, who remembered us and fetched our lock from a glass-fronted cupboard. He had managed to open the lock, but could not remember which combination allowed him to unlock it. He said:
“You take it home and try a few numbers.”
He refused to accept any payment for his efforts.

Back at our accommodation, I tried what I remembered had been the lock’s combination, and discovered that the locksmith had rendered the once useless lock fully functional. As the tourist board slogan (Incredible!ndia) suggests, the country is truly incredible.

PS These locks are cheap to buy new in India. It was not to save money that we visited so many locksmiths, but it was for the enjoyment of the challenge to find someone to do the job that we spent the time going from one to another. Some people enjoy passing time playing games on their phones. We choose to have our timepass (Indian English) in other ways

Running in the family

WHILE WANDERING THROUGH the large rambling bazaar in Mandvi, which is in the former Kingdom of Kutch (now part of Gujarat), we came across a workshop where bandhani textiles for clothing were being made.

Making a knot for bandhani dyeing

Bandhani is a method of producing patterned dyed silks and cotton. Put simply, a piece of cloth, already dyed one colour or not at all, is prepared as follows. Parts of the cloth are gathered up to form tight bundles fastened by fine threads. The bundles, which look like small pimples are distributed to form patterns. The tied cloth is then dyed. The dye reaches all parts of the cloth except those enclosed in the tiny bundles. When the bundles are untied the patches of the cloth that had been shielded from the dye remain the original colour. This process can be repeated several times using different dyes to create an interesting pattern.

The shop the looked at, Khatri Ibrahim Siddik & Co, is the oldest bandhani workshop in Mandvi. It has been run by the same family for fifteen generations .

During our recent visit (January 2023), we have come across several businesses that have passed from generation to generation. In Bhuj, the Shivam Daining (sic) restaurant is run by chefs whose great grandfathers, grandfathers, and fathers, have all been cooks to the Maharaos of Kutch. Likewise, there is a bakery in Bhuj with an ancient wood fired stove. This business has passed through at least four generations. Nearby, there is a knife, scissors, and sword maker, who is the fourth or fifth generation of a family, which has been in this trade for over more than a century.

I am certain that there are plenty more examples of families in Kutch specialising in skills that have been passed from one generation to the next. I wonder whether these skills are in the genes, or simply taught by one generation to the next, and so on.