society

Meet the handymen from Karama, Dubai

There are still people who believe in the virtues of repair and restore in today’s use-and-discard culture

Suchitra Bajpai Chaudhary, Senior Reporter
18:00 September 14, 2018
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Dubai: Take a walk around your neighbourhood and you may find pieces of discarded furniture, some in surprisingly good condition, waiting to carried off to some landfill by the garbage truck. This sight may no longer make us stop and think because we are used to the use-and-discard culture.

In this age of consumerism, it’s much easier to buy a new blender than go to the trouble of fixing the wobbly one that served you well for years. But there are still some people who believe in the old-is-gold adage and repair their favourite things instead of chucking them into the garbage.

Catering to the desires of these loyalists are repairmen in the city who use their skills to not just restore objects, but also bring back the smile on their clients’ faces.

The values of conserve, reuse and recycle still thrive in the bylanes of Karama. Here, you can still find dedicated repairmen who devote time and effort to turn the clock back on broken and dented items.

From cobblers, carpenters, tailors and watch repairers to electricians who tame the growling motors of ancient blenders and vacuum cleaners, Karama has them all.

Many of them are from a culture that has seen their grandparents get their old sewing machine or gramophone repaired year after year with loving patience and bring it back home with a pride and joy reserved for precious things.

Gulf News spoke to some handymen who believe in the virtues of repair and reuse.

Ramu Chiravanchil, Carpenter

For 15 years, Ramu Chiravanchil, 48, has walked into his carpentry shop at 8am and got down to business.

Off the arterial Karama Road in one of the winding bylanes stands Red Palace Carpentry, a modest wood repair workshop with one master craftsman at the helm of affairs. Everyday, for the last 15 years, Chiravanchil, 48, has been walking into the shop at 8am and getting down to work. “We sometimes get an order to make new furniture but usually people come here to get old bedside tables, chairs, shelves, coffee tables, repaired. I view repairing as a challenge. A wobbly table, a few nails to be hammered in, a new extension, and you have a perfectly restored item of furniture back in your life,” says Chiravanchil.

The prices are not high, Dh50-Dh200 — but his degree of satisfaction at restoring an item to its former glory is sky high.

“People come in with crestfallen faces hoping I can work some magic on their old item. Many are sentimental about the item. To them, it is not just a piece of wood but a reservoir of memories. I feel happy restoring that furniture and putting the smile back on their faces. In India, our parents never threw away a single chair or shelf. We grew up with the same furniture for years,” says Chiravanchil.

Nisar Ahmad, Mechanic

Nisar Ahmad feels at home among broken air-conditioners, fridges and washing machines at his 10-year-old shop.

The owner of Future Sun repair shop and his team of five mechanics — electricians from Pakistan — run the shop filled with broken air-conditioners, fridges and washing machines. Ahmad, who has been running this shop for 10 years, feels that Karama has a big market for repairs of old electronic stuff. “Earlier, people would repair cassette tape recorders and old televisions too. We have moved on from those days but many people still believe in extracting the full value of money from their gadgets. We service this segment. My staff is able to turn around a spluttering air-conditioner and give it at least a year or two of extended life for as little as Dh100. Similarly, we repair old washing machines and refrigerators and charge between Dh75 — Dh200. If there is a need for a new compressor, obviously, the rate goes up. But I feel happy restoring these gadgets which otherwise would end up in the garbage dump,” says Ahmad, who has a regular clientele.

N. Sreenivasan Raj, Tailor

N. Sreenivasan Raj, 39, has been working as a master tailor at the Match and Fit shop for seven years.

Match and Fit caters to all kinds of tailoring requirements for men and women. Raj, 39, from Chennai, India, has been working as a master tailor at this shop for the last seven years. “While it is good to get new clothes tailored, there is a greater satisfaction in being able to fit into an old pair of trousers or shirt. People have too many clothes so sometimes, even the old clothes look as good as new,” says Raj, who gets a range of alteration orders from loosening seams of dresses and blouses to increasing and decreasing lengths of trousers. “Many a time, children wear hand me downs and mothers come to us for cutting a trouser short or loosening the seams of a tunic or shirt. I do all kinds of alterations for both men and women,” says Raj, who charges between Dh10-15 per alteration. “Although it is more profitable to stitch new clothes, we never turn down requests for alteration,” says Raj.

Mohammad Hafiz, Cobbler

For 10 years, Mohammad Hafiz has gone about mending shoes and bags in his small partitioned kiosk in a shop.

Hafiz, from Islamabad in Pakistan, has been working in this field for the last 10 years. He operates from a small partitioned kiosk at Al Baraka keymaker’s shop, handling over 10-15 customers in a day. From resoling old shoes, repairing buckles, sewing zips on leather bags, gluing velcros on sandal straps to punching new holes in old leather belts, sewing old slippers and sandals, Hafiz is deft with all kinds of repairs.

“I make new shoes too as I was a trained shoe maker in Islamabad. But the repair work is big here. I charge between Dh10-50. People trust me with their designer bags and shoes. I am able to repair it to look as good as new,” says Hafiz, who starts his day at 9am and works through until 10.30pm with a lunch break. “I like meeting people. We have so many kinds of people in our shop and the day just slips by,” says Haifz, making light of his long working hours.

Aurangzeb Ghani, Watch repairer

From repairing locks and making duplicate keys, Aurangzeb Ghani, 31, developed a fascination for the tiny machinery in wrist watches and is now a master at repairing them.

Ghani shares space with Hafiz at the shop. With an eye for the detail, Ghani, 31, from Gujranwala in Pakistan, tinkers with old watches coaxing them back to a tick-tock condition. “Originally, I was into lock repairs and making duplicate keys, but over the years, I developed a fascination for the tiny machinery in wrist watches. I listen intently, use little screws and instruments to gently wind the delicate parts and feel immense joy when the watch starts moving again,” says Ghani, who charges between Dh35-60 for his services.

“People have a great sentimental value for watches,” says Ghani. “Many tell me that they inherited a beautiful piece from their grandfather and would give anything to see it work again. I take pride in being able to fulfil their hopes. The expression of joy on their faces is priceless,” says Ghani, who has mastered the art of watch repair in the eight years that he has been working here.