A native of Harichandrapuram village, in Tiruvallur district of Tamil Nadu, around 62km from Chennai, Kadar Basha has been a knife sharpener for the past 30 years. Pragmatic and down to earth, he began sharpening knives as a boy. His grandfather was a pious and charitable man, who donated four acres of land for a mosque. Whatever remained was usurped by others. His father began sharpening knives to eke a living. He says that he is a professional actor. And agonises that changing times have made people less sensitive. Shail features a man on the streets of Chennai, a face in the crowd, and tells us his story, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
“I do not weep at the world. I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.” ~ Zora Neale Hurston, African-American novelist, short story writer, folklorist, and anthropologist.
“Saanai. Saanai” I heard a voice on the road. It was then, I remembered that I needed to sharpen my kitchen knives. And, what a wonderful opportunity to talk to a knife sharpener! 45-year- old Kadar Basha saw me rush towards him and he put his knife sharpening instrument on the ground. I gave him the blunt knives and as he placed the knife on the metal wheel I began my conversation with him.
A native of Harichandrapuram village in Tiruvallur district of Tamil Nadu, around 62km from Chennai, Kadar Basha has been a knife sharpener for the past 30 years.
That means you must have begun working quite early?
So, when did you branch out?
“After a few years of moving around with my father, I too got a machine and we both would start from home together and then go our separate ways with our machines. I even used to carry it on my head when I was younger.”
Carry it on your head? But, isn’t the machine heavy?
“Yes, it is but you get used to it over time.”
So, do many people from your village do this work?
“No, not all can do this as it is hard work carrying it around and secondly, there is not much money in this. You need to walk several kilometres before you get customers. This profession will stop with me.”
So, is he happy about it or sad?
“There is nothing to be happy or sad about it. I understand that this is not the ideal job for the youth of today. It is not enough to run a family.”
But, you did?
“Yes, I did. But, those times were different. Today, you rarely find people sharpening knives and all. Most people just discard the blunt knives. It is a ‘use and throw’ generation now!”
So, were your ancestors too in this profession?
“No, my grandfather was a well-off agriculturist. He signed off around 4 acres to the Masjid near the railway station in our village. So, you can imagine.”
Then, how did your father come into this field?
“My grandfather was not too bothered about the future generations. He lived well, did charity work. In fact, part of the land that he owned got usurped by others. So, by the time my father began working there was not much left although today too, when you go to my village, everybody knows that my grandfather donated land for the mosque.”
What about your family?
“Family? I got married in my village. I worked there for some time. Then, after my children were born we came here.”
How many children do you have? What do they do?
“I have four children. Karimullah, Shakira, Usman and Rafi. The first boy is married and runs a small business. My daughter is married and has three girls of her own but she is tortured a lot by her in-laws. The last two boys are 10th fail. I am planning to get them a shop or something.”
And, what about your parents?
“They live nearby on the same street. My mother doesn’t live with me. She lives with my younger brother. She has always loved him more!”
(Suddenly, 45-year- old Kadar had become a small boy yearning for his mother’s love, while she showered her affection on her youngest child!)
Before I could ask any more profession related questions to Kadar he burst out.
What? Actor? You do acting too?
(He seemed happy to have elicited this kind of response from me, I observed)
“Yes, in dramas.”
I appeared skeptical.
He seemed to have observed that too and had a ready reply.
“Not that I do it for free. I am paid for doing roles. And, I am happy that I can do something more in my life.”
But, how did this acting business come up?
“There was a shooting going on while I was on my sharpening rounds. I approached someone. They promised roles in skits and dramas. I did not think much about it then. But, I had given my number and surprisingly, they called up one day. That’s how it began. After that, whenever there was a requirement, they called.”
‘Impressed’ was a small word.
What about your wife? What does she think about your profession, about your acting?
“What is there to think? My wife is three times the size now when compared to what she was when we got married. Her brothers ask me what I have given her that she is so healthy and fat. I say to them that I have fed her well and given her happiness. That is what is showing.”
What do you have to tell about women in general?
“See, in our community, women put on the burkha whenever they go out. But today, the world is changed. Whether the person walking before you is a man or a woman we cannot say. Men have long hair and women wear different dresses.”
“Women, irrespective of their communities and faith have been kind. Earlier, every house would offer me jaggery and water being considerate of the fact that I have to walk long distances in the sun with my heavy machine. But, today, who has the time? Times have changed.”
Anything you wish to say about the current political condition?
“What will I say? Jallikuttu should stay. Would they have dared to do this with cricket? Jallikuttu is part of our tradition.”
What about Amma?
“Amma’s party should have been dismantled after her demise.”
What about our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi?
“Don’t even mention Modi to me. He is more interested in roaming the world than governing the country. And, then, he brings in problems of Aadhar and that money problem.”
Finally, what would you tell the next generation?
“Study more, take care of your family and get a good name. Nothing else matters.”
Now, here was a man who knew what he was talking about, unlike the useless banter that one gets to hear now-a- days.
I took my sharpened knives and headed back home. Another fulfilling conversation with a self-respecting man on the street.
Photos by the author
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Shail Raghuvanshi is a freelance writer, editor, content writer, book reviewer and poet. A post graduate in Journalism and Mass Communication, she has 20 years of writing experience in newspaper, magazine, radio, television and the internet. Her poems, short stories and articles have been published in leading magazines, journals and e-books apart from featuring in anthologies. A daughter, a wife and a mother, she is the eternal optimist. Faith, friendship and family make her life complete.