India Diary – Selvam

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20150811_113506I saw Selvam this morning when I was stepping out of the apartment where I was staying. I saw him working away on his sewing machine and stopped to talk to him. Selvam is an ex-alcoholic who used to work at a large shopping centre sewing blouses in the back office. He has been running a mobile sewing unit for the last three years ever since he went into recovery.

Three years ago, Selvam was traveling on the footboard of a local bus after being completely sozzled when he fell backward and hit his head. He was admitted to hospital and he is amazed that he survived the accident. He remembers a neighbour of his, a staunch Christian who prayed for his life. Since then, despite being a Hindu, he goes to a church to attend mass on Sundays as he believes that there is but one God.

He spoke with regret about what he had put his wife, who has always stood staunchly by his side, through in the years that he had spent as an alcoholic. He also told me about how recently one day when he returned after a long day’s work, his usually ebullient 10-year old son, went quiet and shied away from him. Turns out the son had wondered apprehensively to his mother if his dad had slipped into his old ways. Selvam said he realised at that point how much his alcoholism had scarred his children and how he was determined more than ever to stay away from alcohol. So much so that he recently bought two of his mates drinks for his birthday and much to their surprise, he wasn’t in the least tempted to even have a sip.

As a mobile sewing unit, Selvam stows his sewing machine for the night at the shed of a well-wisher from where he wheels it out at 7.30 every morning. He sets up shop at various spots around the area where the locals have come to recognise his talents and place orders with him, both for alterations and for stitching blouses. He says his investment of 5000 Rupees in the sewing machine has more than paid off. He works hard at his job, and it is this, he says that has helped him get regular clientele. Back when he used to work for someone, he would get paid 25 Rupees per blouse. But now he charges 30 Rupees for small alterations. He has managed to purchase a small flat for his family with his own savings (no mortage, he insisted, I don’t want any debt).

In my bag, I had a salwar kameez with me which needed mending. He ran the top through his machine as he chatted with me. If you need anything else stitched, let me know, I will be here most days. I wished him luck with the rest of the day’s business and hailed an autorickshaw.

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