The story of an artisan: How leather bags changed Raju’s life
Kaam karenge tabhi toh aage badhenge. Zindagi humein roz yahi sikhati hai. (Only when we work shall we succeed. This is what life teaches us every day)
This is what Raju, 24, said to me when I met him in Ajmer, Rajasthan. He is one of our many skilled artisans who create leather satchels, messengers, duffels, backpacks and many more for us. My visit was part of meeting our suppliers to work on new designs and product innovations.
Since the time I’ve been going there, I wanted to explore more about the lives of these artisans. They are the hidden gems everyone should know of – how ordinary people with little or no formal educational background produce world-class leather satchels and messengers!
Today’s blog is dedicated to Raju and many other skillful workers. Despite all odds, they rose to the occasion and brought hope into their lives.
Let us find out his story and how working with us gave him an opportunity to believe in himself.
Excerpts from my conversations with him:
SG: So Raju, tell me from the beginning. What’s your story?
Raju: I belong to a very poor family of farmers in a village called Hathi Khera in Ajmer District. Both my parents are laborers on an agricultural farm, working for a landlord. We are three brothers and two sisters. As kids, we used to earn some money by milking buffaloes, owned by that same landlord, and distributing it to nearby homes and villages.
This was our life up until growing up.
SG: How was it like growing up like that? What were the challenges faced by you in those circumstances?
Raju: There were so many challenges every day. There have been so many days when we have slept without food or water.
We were poor and had no access to clean drinking water or proper sanitation. There was no regular source of income.
We used to fall ill so often. With no healthcare facility in our village, we used to walk barefoot to another village to get ourselves checked. Life was indeed tough.
SG: Did you attend any school? How educated are you?
Raju: (smiles) I studied a bit. Not much. Can’t remember when I dropped out; maybe it was around the time when I was 12 or 13 years old, when I was in 6th class.
In those days, there was a government school in a nearby village. Every day we used to wake up at around 4 am, do our work (of milking the buffaloes), and then travel 10 kilometers one way to attend the school. I simply became disinterested to travel and study that far.
But now, based on my experience of working here in this team, I am interested to study and learn new things in life. So I have again started to study a bit. I go for the evening classes enthusiastically, when my work is over.
SG: What did you do after dropping out of school?
Raju: After leaving school, I started looking for odd jobs in Ajmer city. This was the trend in our village – leave for the city and look for jobs as helpers or mechanics in shops, factories, or manufacturing units.
After searching for jobs for many days, I landed a job as a helper in a small hotel. I worked there for four years. Then I left that job and became a helper in a shop selling leather belts and buckles. It was a small shop. I was paid Rs. 1500 ($24) per month at that time.
There, I became very interested in leather. I used to visit the workshop where these belts were made. I learnt so much from that job and the process behind the making of leather items. It opened a window of knowledge for me that I can’t explain now.
Then one fine day, as luck would have it, I met Mr. Pankaj Gupta who was the owner of that workshop. He saw my enthusiasm and fascination towards leather and offered me a job to work in this current unit, also owned by him. I agreed, and that’s how I became part of creating leather bags for Soulful Collection. I shall always remain indebted to Mr. Gupta for believing in me.
SG: How has life changed for you after working here?
Raju: My life has changed dramatically for the better. Right from receiving formal training about handcrafting leather products to imbibing entrepreneurial skills, the environment here is all about learning new things and innovating.
Thanks to better income, my wife and kids live a lifestyle that I couldn’t afford sometime back. My kids go to a good school. Just recently I bought a mobile for my wife. She couldn’t have been happier.
For the first time, I am treated with respect in my workplace. I have great friends here, and my expertise in creating leather bags have been honed quite well over the last few years. So much so, that I have started dabbling in managerial tasks as well!
As for creating leather bags, it’s a joy to create something magical. To create a leather bag, for example a satchel, involves a rigorous task – right from tanning and stitching to finally tailoring the bag and assembling it. However, it’s a beautiful experience for me. I love the fact that our expertise helps in creating a design that’s taken the world over.
All I want to do is thank everyone, including you, for giving us all an opportunity to work with pride and honor.
SG: Thank you Raju for sharing your story.
Over endless cups of chai and biscuits, I have encountered countless of fascinating stories like these over many years. While my conversation with Raju stretched over many hours, for lack of space I could only show you glimpses into his life. A life that is symbolic of finding hope in despair, of finding a silver lining in dark cloud.
As someone rightly said, “There are no shortcuts. Work for it.”
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