What makes Serangoon Road (a famous street in Singapore), popularly known as "Little India", so lively, coulourful, exciting and fascinating?
It is the bustling lifestyle of Indians who are heavily concentrated here with their charming and favourite occupations like milk vendoring, goldsmith work, parrot-astrology and textile selling. Mr. M Vadivelu, a veteran traditional Indian goldsmith working for "Selvasegara Goldsmith & Jewelley" shop at Serangoon Road, held Oral History Department officers spellbound when they observed him meticulously welding a gold mounting to a tali, a traditional necklace worn by married Indian women.
Goldsmith M Vadivelu, 67, who has been in the trade for the last 40 years, said, "I always take roughly about 3 to 5 hours to make a simple 'tali'. It's a difficult job. I've got to be careful and I always try to satisfy my regular customers as much as I can. Being a goldsmith may look like a simple job but a lot of hardwork is involved. I also make nose-rings, bangles, necklaces and earrings."
A self-made and well-motivated artisan in his trade, Vadivelu sits beneath the stairs of the shophouse for about 15 to 20 working hours a day. Sometimes, he has to sacrifice his sleep in the wee hours of the night crafting raw gold from its melting stage to the polished brilliance of the finished product.
What motivates Vadivelu to work hard and excel in his trade?
He answered, "Whatever I do, it must be always perfect and good. My customer must be happy with my job. Sometimes I have to re-do the same work again and again. It can be difficult and frustrating but I am used to it." The job is both mentally and physically demanding. A good and talented craftsmen, according to the goldsmith, is to concentrate hard and to keep trying again and again. Attention must be paid to minor details. These will bring success in this trade." Vadivelu's table is always scattered with common tools like the hammer, files, screws, acid, sandpaper, water and lamp. Using a burner, he melts the gold.
According to Vadivelu, these tools are "important in my job. I always try to keep them in tip-top condition, otherwise it will make my job very difficult." On display at the jewelley shop is an array of jewellery in many varieties of beautiful and glittering necklaces, rings and earrings which reflects the end result in the superb craftmanship of Vadivelu. He is also am expert in the adjustment and repair of jewellery pieces. According to him, jewellery items and gold ornaments are "very popular and important for Tamils. During Deepavali, Ponggal and Thaipusam festivals, many customers come to buy gold. They also buy jewelleries for wedding and birthday gifts. Hence, demand is high and we receive many orders in advance for such occasions."
After finishing rudimentary schooling in India, Vadivelu expressed keen interest in the crafting of gold. He attributes his deep interest to his father's influence.
"I was interested in goldsmith work since young. My father also influenced me. He knows the trade well. He was also a goldsmith for many years."
Knowing that interest alone will not make his ambition come true, he had a proper and sunstantive training from his 'guru' (master) in India. According to Vadivelu. "it was very tough training. Because of this, it takes a long time to learn the skill. You have to concentrate very hard and spend a lot of time for some kinds of gold work. It was good training for me."
The training had made him tough and versatile and he is therefore competent in handling any kind of gold crafting job with the greatest of ease. Although a specialist in crafting gold, he modestly claims, "I'm learning. In my job, sometimes I do new things which I've never done im the past. Thus, making it interesting."
How does Vadivelu feel about the future of Indian traditional goldsmiths in Singapore?
With a dose of sentimentalism and pessimism, he estimates "in 5 to 10 years' time, it'll be more difficult to find Indian goldsmiths. The demand will still be there, but the younger generation never like to do this kind of job. This is a difficult job and needs a lot of sacrifices. All these things make the goldsmith occupation unpopular and unattractive."
Now Vadivelu faithfully works for "Selvasegara Goldsmith." People from all over flock to him and take great delight in his esteemed art.
"A thing of beauty is a joy forever. Its loveliness increases. It'll never pass into nothingness," says John Keats in his famous poem 'Endymion' which captures the spirit of beauty in goldsmith Vadivelu's art work. The net result of his work certainly conveys his total dedication and commitment unmistakably. It also becomes an inspiring saga for modern man in appreciating and valuing such beautiful things in life.