Shopian: Starting to repair shoes at the age of 9, when he lost his father, now Mohammad Yousuf Sheikh, 38, is the go-to shoe mender of Shopian town, his customers coming not only from Shopian but from Pulwama, Anantnag and Kulgam districts.
Though the practice of getting old shoes repaired has declined in recent years, but Sheikh is still attending to flocks of customers who swear by his skill of repairing shoes.
Locals who come to get shoes repaired from Sheikh said that he is a master at his job. “Once he repairs a shoe, the stitches do not loosen, even till the shoe decays, and his polish lasts longer than of other cobblers,” said Showkat Ahmad, who had come to get his leather shoe polished from Sheikh.
For the past 25 years Sheikh is doing his job in an open space near Gol Chowk in Shopian town, where he has been witness to at least two decades of violence, public protests, grenade attacks, civilian killings, and encounters in which both militants and soldiers have lost their lives.
“Several times I had a close shave during firing and grenade attacks, but once I was badly beaten up by the army after a firing incident. A policeman who had two stars on his shoulder saved me from their wrath. He pretended to beat me and said to me, ‘Vostay bu cxusay akhti layen’ (I am only pretending to beat you) and then put me in a car and took me away from the spot,” Sheikh recounted.
Sheikh belongs to the Sheikh Nad locality of Meminder village, some one-and-a-half kilometer from Shopian town, which has about 30 families and nine other men doing the job of shoe repairing. The community is popular in Kashmir as Watals, socially considered as a lower caste, but Sheikh said that now with more people getting education, the Watals don’t face much caste discrimination.
His two elder brothers are employees in the Municipal Committee Shopian but he is still dependent on shoe repair for livelihood and the education of his two children.
“I am exhausted now. It has been 28 years in shoe repairing and all the dust of vehicles and noise isn’t easy to bear with here,” he said, adding that if the government would help him by providing a job in the municipality, it would be a great blessing for him.