A grinder is an itinerant craftsman who sharpens tools and utensils of merchants and inhabitants. The job of grinder appeared in Europe at the Renaissance period, when people of nobility were used to carry sword and dagger, to fight in duel and to show their power. Practices evolved over time but the job stayed. Activating a grindstone in stoneware with his feet, as a dressmaker would make it for her sewing machine, the grinder makes it turn to apply the blunt metal on it and to reform the cutting edge. One of the particularities of the job is the move: the grinder doesn't possess a shop but moves towards merchants and inhabitants. The grindstone is placed on a cart or another mean of this kind – sometimes pulled by a dog – and the grinder roams in cities or villages, and announces his arrival by a distinctive shout.
The job of grinder was still widely spread in France between the two world wars, then disappeared little by little in the second half of the 20th century in front of the competition of new tools in stainless material and overconsumption. Today there are only a few dozens of craftsmen of this type in France; because of their advanced age, the grinder will soon belong to the past. Except if the professional training courses succeed to revive this ancestral job.
Postcards of the beginning of 20th century prove that the job of grinder was already well implanted at that time in the subcontinent. Taking advantage of a cheap labour – as well as child labour – the job is then practised in duet with the most precarious equipment: the first man pulls the strings on each side of a single grindstone to activate it, when his partner applies the metal to the wall. Here also the job survives under precarious conditions, even if the material improves: the grindstone in stoneware becomes metallic, a belt replaces the string, and the whole has a more important size to accelerate the rotation speed and thus improve the sharpening quality. Grinders don't carry anymore their charge on the back, but move by bicycle with cutting tools to be sold.
Rasul Bhai resumed the work of his father that this one already held from his own father. The profession of grinder is just like many other jobs in India: it's a family tradition. At 42 years old, Rasul Bhai crosses the streets of Pondicherry for more than twenty years. Born in Tamil Nadu, he settled in the former French trade post to work. When we met him, he wore a red and white lined shirt, and the famous Indian longhi encircled his legs. Announcing his arrival by a "kathi sanai", he follows a different route every day of the week, which he starts again every Monday. From seven o'clock in the morning to four o'clock in the afternoon, he roams in the streets of the Indian city. Married and father of four daughters, he has already married three – the last one still studies at the University.