In respect of a fine workman, he is but, a mender of bad soles. Sunil Ram in Lhuentse.
A hammer, an anvil, awls, nippers, pliers, files and tattered shoes, among many other things, are upon a labouring day, the signs of his profession. He has the paraphernalia of his trade all neatly laid out in front of a shop. That’s where he does his job of repairing broken shoes, in the open.
From school children to civil servants to farmers in Lhuentse, all come to Sunil with their old shoes. On a good day, Sunil makes Nu 500. Sometimes, none at all.
A father of three, Sunil Ram from Bihar in India is 28. Twelve years ago, Sunil’s brother-in-law, who is a cobbler in Samdrupjongkhar, brought Sunil along to Bhutan to work with him. For 11 years Sunil worked with his brother-in-law. Then he decided to go it alone.
A shopkeeper in the town who had a cobbler’s licence asked Sunil to come to Lhuentse because Bhutanese do not take up the job of mending shoes. That’s how Sunil ended up in Lhuentse, a town he had no idea existed in Bhutan.
With a smile says Sunil, “Although I don’t make much repairing shoes, that doesn’t discourage me. Lhuntse has quite a big population. At the end of month, business really is not bad.” Today, however, Sunil has no shoes to fix and will not make any money. So he tries to pick up a conversation with passersby to “kill time”.
No job is “mean or bad or lowly,” says Sunil. “Time will come when the Bhutanese will begin taking jobs like this and learn that no job harms a person’s social standing.”
Mending shoes is “no mean job,” says Sunil. He is the sole bread earner in the family and he sends money home regularly. “One has to have respect and devotion to one’s job. How one does one’s job is more important than the job itself.” An undignified job, says Sunil, becomes dignified if done the right way with honesty.
For the Bhutanese children to be able to take up the available jobs “parents and teachers should take the lead role” to instill in them appreciation for all kinds of jobs.
“I can provide my family three meals a day by repairing shoes. We are not hungry. My children go to school. I am a happy man. That to me is dignity of labour,” says Sunil. “Any job that gives one satisfaction at the end of the day is a good job. I love what I do.”
“Although we have many young people looking for jobs, no one is ready to take up blue-collar jobs. Everyone wants a good-paying desk job. That’s why we have a sizeable youth unemployment in the country,” says a shopkeeper, who has now joined Sunil to bask in the sun outside is shop.