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Second Chances

***Written by production manager Jane Mellema***

No way!  There they are! 

Two men bustled around the crowded train station platform, each clasping a silver ring full of zipper pieces. I just so happened to have a well-worn duffel bag with me. It had two broken and very stubborn zippers. Lacking pull-tabs, these zippers opened only with much effort. The men weaved in and out of the crowd unnoticed, trying to offer their expertise to uninterested people. I timidly waved to get one of the men’s attention, and he darted to my side.

Before my friends left India, they had given me this bag and informed me that often at train stations, chain-walas (men who sell and fix zippers) offer their services. Sure enough!

The men offered to replace the zippers for 50 rupees a piece, which felt like a deal (not to a local, I’m sure). I agreed.

As I squatted with my friends’ young child (as captured in above photo!), many people crowded around us. The two men who had been so uninteresting to the crowds suddenly attracted attention. What were these foreigners doing with them? 

In other circumstances, I would have gotten rid of that bag. It was getting worn out and very difficult to open. Zipper repair can be expensive. It would be easier to buy a new one. For many things, it is less complicated to buy new items rather than search for someone to fix them and then learn the incredible cost that the job would incur. Often fixing is almost as costly as a new one.

In India, the population is abundant, and people are opportunistic and creative in their work. You can find a way to get anything repaired. Nothing is too simple or difficult to fix! You just have to find the right person. 

On one occasion, I had attempted to use my roommate's blender to make mango smoothies. After putting in ice and pushing the go button, I was dismayed to hear the machine come to an abrupt halt. Listening from the other room, she asked what I had put in the blender. “Ice.”  “Oh, I never blend ice,” was her response. 

I kept pushing the button. . . . “please start.”  I hate breaking other peoples’ things. I felt horrible. When I came to grips with the fact that I had broken the blender, I assumed I would have to buy a new one. 

During a session with my language helper that week, I wrote a story in Hindi detailing the blender incident.  “Bring it on Friday,” she told me, “and we will take it to see if it can be fixed”. 

Friday I jumped on a scooter behind my teacher, who rarely leaves her home. We haltingly drove down the narrow old city alley, dodging dogs, motorcycles, bikes, and cows. 

After pulling up to a small store we found a counter strewn with electrical wires, bulbs and appliances.  The man assured us that it would be fixed in two days for 150 rupees. In two days, it was as good as new. 

Coming from a culture of convenience and abundance, I have learned to treasure this part of my host culture. Nothing is so quickly discarded but rather, given a second chance of life. Wear and tear and use indicate a full life and history.

Even our sari scarves and sari purses are about second chances. Indian ladies exchange their old saris for new plastic or metal housewares. We hand-pick each beautiful sari and give them new life as re-purposed scarves and bags! Second chances are beautiful, whether it be a zipper, sari scarves, a friendship.....the list goes on and on.

What (or who) do you want to give a second chance?

Photo credit: Alicia Hatton




  • Mo

    Jane, this made me laugh out loud, remember the smell from the blender and the look on your face…priceless! Thanks for sharing it again. Second chances are amazing.

  • Tim Schoap

    Great story! Makes me want to bring a bad bag to India just to experience the chain-wallas!

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