Mending the seats of power at the Secretariat

C.T. Thangaraj ranks among the most sought after men in Chennai’s State Secretariat complex, home to almost all the departments of the Tamil Nadu government. Here, nearly every government employee and officer walking past Mr. Thangaraj exchanges pleasantries with him as he goes about mending faulty chairs in the corridors of the historic Fort St. George campus.

A regular in the Secretariat for over 15 years, Mr. Thangaraj is the de facto man all the departments turn to when they want their chairs repaired.

He has mended and knitted the seating of almost every wooden chair in the complex, including those in the Chief Secretary’s conference room. The Secretariat has more than 5,000 employees in over 30 departments.

The composed, patient and affable man, now in his 50s, is proud of receiving his “work orders” via “files”’. Signed by an officer from the O.P. (Office Procedure) Section in various departments, his orders request him to mend a specific chair in a certain department, sometimes at a preferable time.

His place of work is often the corridor close to the departments that need their chairs mended.

“All it needs is patience and a heart to finish the work completely and with care,” he says with a smile. Not surprisingly, the Secretariat’s officials prefer wooden chairs with wire seating — they are comfortable even over long hours of use.

A native of Pudhuvayal in Sivaganga district, Mr. Thangaraj dropped out of school after Class IX and began helping his family with his earnings.

“I know only this [work] and my knitting is always neat, they say,” he shares with pride.

He fondly recalls learning to knit chair seats from a man in Guindy.

“And an acquaintance who brought me to the Secretariat complex has quit knitting and become a watchman,” he says.

Beyond his work in the Secretariat, Mr. Thangaraj has obliged officers with work orders for mending chairs in their homes. Recently, there was a VIP customer too.

“I got an order for the residence of a Minister,” Mr. Thangaraj says.

So, how long does he intend to work at the Secretariat complex? “As long as there are wooden chairs with wire seating here!” he says simply.

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