From Rags to Riches

Rahul Manoj

Chennai: Sitting in his 7 x 5 feet shop, busily attending phone calls and clad in a blue pant and blue shirt, you might mistake him for an ordinary man.

But as they say “Looks are Deceptive”, Narayanan Duraisamy, the owner of Narayanan Electrical and Plumbing Works, leads a team of six permanent workers and around 30 contract workers despite being an illiterate.

He was born in 1978 at Keezhgudalur, Tindivanam and started working as a mason in Chennai in 1999.

“I started off knowing nothing in the job and my daily wages were only 5 rupees per day”, he recalled.

The turning point of my life was in 2000 when a construction company, Malar Constructions had a requirement for electrical and plumbing work, said Narayanan.

Then, he started his own shop in 2001.

Today, Narayanan’s enterprise attends to all types of electrical repairs like short circuits, fuses, and circuit breaker tripping. His team also does plumbing repairs such as leaky taps, seepages on the roof and cloggy pipes.

“We have also entered the painting and whitewashing business now”, he beamed with pride.

Pointing out to the changes in the trade, “During the 1990’s, iron pipes were used for plumbing work in construction and they were heavy and difficult to handle”, he said.

Today, they have been replaced with PVC pipes which do not rust and our jobs have become less laborious, said Narayanan. 

“In those days despite earning only 5 rupees per day, there was a lot of demand for electricians and plumbers”, he recalled.

“Though I pay my permanent staff around 1200 rupees per day and contract workers around 850 rupees per day in addition to petrol and food charges”, I do not see many people of this generation coming to this profession, said Narayanan.

He said that even if workers work for half a day, he pays the full wages due to the shortage of labourers.

Workers are paid weekly wages every Saturday, depending upon their performance, he added.

On an average, “I get around 200 calls from labourers per day seeking work, but only four to five are skilled enough”, he said. 

Due to the limited number of labourers, Narayanan ensure that old workers are made to work on the ground and younger workers are employed for difficult tasks.

“It is not easy being the owner, I work tirelessly even on weekends from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m”, said Narayanan.

“If I do not open my shop at 8 a.m, the contract workers do not turn up”, he chuckled.

Interestingly, though he makes around 80,000 rupees per month, he never keeps track of his earnings. Despite the advent of banking services today, he does not have a bank account and all his dealings are in cash. 

Referring to challenges in his work, Narayanan said that getting work done and the unpredictable weather makes his job tough.

“I do not work only for the money, giving employment for many workers is what keeps me going”, he added.

“My dream is to see my children well educated and open a big hardware showroom soon”, he signed off.

Udaya Kumar, owner of Udayam Constructions, Kotturpuram who has been employing Narayanan for more than 10 years said “Narayanan is a dependable person whose work need not be supervised at all but sometimes the timeframe of projects is not met”. 

“He is a very sincere person but since his nature of work is need based, he is not punctual”, said Ranganathan, owner of Balaji Abodes, Adambakkam who has known Narayanan for more than 15 years.