|Cobbler Dhanapal at work in Pondy Bazaar - Ganesh|
Sitting under a huge roadside tree at Theyagaraya Road in Pondy Bazaar, Dhanapal stitches together the sole of a worn out black leather shoe. The cobbler has been sitting under that tree and stitching damaged shoes and slippers for the last twenty years but his little ‘office’ that takes hardly three square feet space has never received any attention all these years.
“Atleast two dozen shops used to be present on the pavement behind me until two weeks ago and I kept on with my business unnoticed making around Rs. 200/- every day,” he says. When this newspaper lensman pointed his camera at him, Dhanapal lamented that he was receiving too much unwanted attention these days. “A few days ago, some policemen came and beat me up. They want me to move out of here too,” he says.
Behind Dhanapal lies a wide, desolate pavement that used to be one of the most crowded sidewalks in the city. With the corporation evicting all the pavement vendors to a multi-storreyed complex nearby, the road assumes a new identity as colourful boards of various retail outlets that were shrouded behind huge tarpaulin sheets and makeshift roofs of these pavement shops now stand out, inviting more customers.
“It is definitely good for us,” says Sheikh, a cloth merchant from Paramakudi who has set up his shop at Pondy Bazaar for the last 12 years. “Now there is a slight lull in the business due to the repair work but it will definitely pick up once the new pavement is laid. Until now, upmarket customers preferred shopping malls to Pondy Bazaar as they had to wriggle their way out in this crowded street. We expect to expand our business to a more elite clientele,” he says as he waves to pedestrians walking along the pavement to his shop.
The footpath that was difficult to manouvre for even the moderately-sized without rubbing their sweaty bodies against one another now has enough space for lovers to hold hands and take a stroll. “We always love walking in T. Nagar. With more space for pedestrians, our visits to this shopping area will only increase,” says the young woman whose partner prefers anonymity.
A little further down on the road, the pavement is clogged with motor bikes and scooters. “We have already told the motorists not to park here but they do not listen,” says Shankar, a leather retailer at Pondy Bazaar. While Shankar too welcomes the corporation move in clearing pavement vendors like other retailers at Pondy Bazaar, he and the other shop owners hope that motorcycles and scooters do not crowd the pavements henceforth.