A shift in lifestyles, COVID-19 pandemic has changed the game for Aminabad’s locksmiths. Most say they do not want their children to get into this occupation
Samir Khan sits cross-legged on the side of street in Amindabad — one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Lucknow — with a heap of unfinished keys, a file and a small hammer. There is a police station on the opposite side. He has finished making a key when an old woman approaches him.
This sight is not too common these days. Samir is one of the few locksmiths left in the old districts of Lucknow: Their tribe has slowly begun to vanish. One can find only a few locksmiths in Aminabad.
“I have lost the keys to the lock. I want new keys. How much will you charge?” the woman says.
Samir studies the lock for a moment: “Rs 30.”
The old woman thinks he is charging too much. Samir blames inflation and successive lockdowns due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic for the amount he has quoted.
As the banter ends, he fishes out an unfinished key from the heap and inserts it into the lock. He twists the key and makes a new key. She grudgingly gives him Rs 30.
Samir stuffs the money into the pocket of his Pathani suit:
“I am the last one in the family to be in this occupation. I won’t allow my sons to become locksmiths. Our income has dwindled over the years, the types of locks people use these days have also changed.”
Earlier, the locks were big and strong. So when anyone lost the key, they would need a locksmith to break it open.
Samir says locksmiths are not respected anymore. Photo: Rohit Ghosh
He said: “The city has expanded. Today, if a person living in distant Gomti Nagar loses his key, he will not come to Aminabad looking for us. He will prefer cutting the shaft of the lock using a serrated blade.”
He said people, over the years, have become careful with their keys: “Nowadays, people keep their keys secured in a ring and that reduces the chances of them getting lost. People have also started keeping their duplicate keys safely.”
Lucknow, till 50 years ago, had a considerable number of descendants and relatives of the Nawabs. They were mostly rich and kept their money and valuables secured in a safe with heavy locks. The locksmith was fetched with much excitement in case a key was lost.
Samir says he has heard several anecdotes from his elders about locksmiths being given grand treatment after opening a heavy lock.
“I mastered the skill by carefully watching my maternal uncle, who, till he was alive used to sit in the very place I am now sitting,” he said.
Samir is 35, but started assisting his uncle when he was 10. He said over all these years, the profession has become “disgraceful”.
“Whenever a there is a major break-in in any part of the city, we become the first suspect or we are accused of being hand in gloves with the thieves. Locksmiths are picked up by the police,” said Samir.
He doesn’t respond when asked if he was ever questioned or detained by the police.
“We purposely chose to sit near the police station. We want to remain in front of the police to avoid being harassed every other day,” he said.
A few steps from Samir one finds Mohammad Hasan (60), another locksmith. Unlike Samir, Hasan sits on a stool behind a table and is dressed in shirt and trousers.
Hasan says he will keep his sons away from this profession. Photo: Rohit Ghosh
He has hung a rough sketch of a lock in front of his table, perhaps to bring customers. The business is slow nonetheless.
It is 5 pm and he says he did not get any work since morning.
“Soon it will be dark and I would have to leave for home without earning a rupee. What’s the use of such an occupation?” he said.
He added that people’s lifestyles have changed: “Who cares about a lock today? They have become too cheap.” The COVID-19 lockdowns since the beginning of the pandemic exhausted his savings, he said.
Hasan, like Samir, says he keeps his sons away from this business. They are currently studying in college.
Yet, they consider their occupation an art: “A lock is yet to be made that we can’t open,” they say.
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