Haris has been part of the parasol project before there was a parasol project. Haris is a rickshaw driver from Kochi, Kerala and one of the most industrious and entrepreneurial people you could meet. Haris and I bought my first parasols together and he now organises the silver fringing and finials. His favourite parasol is orange.
I met him four years ago. It was my second day living in Kochi, I was on a hunt for a clothing rail and had forgotten my wallet. It was August and the monsoon season was just starting. It is the best kept secret of Kerala, the monsoon season. The days are clear and sunny and rains are sudden and torrential, but then forgotten. I set off in the bright sunlight under the waving trees that once shaded colonial invaders. The evening call to prayer wailed behind me and a rickshaw driver yelled hi at me as I passed the rickshaw rank.
I walked down the road and the pink evening light dimmed, a huge drop of rain fell and the heavens opened. I was instantly soaked and incapacitated by incredibly slippery flip flops. As I slithered back home I heard a kitten screaming. I'm very soft-hearted about cats and manoeuvred myself in the direction of the tiny sodden creature which was cowering under a motorbike. I grabbed it and put it in the warmest place I could think of, down the front of my dress. It didn't seem very happy to be there and began to bite fairly hard.
This was where Haris found me.
A rickshaw drove up beside me as I slid around, soaked, being chewed by a desperate kitten.
‘Is that a small cat in your dress?’ he said. ‘I drive you home.’
‘I don’t have any money.’ I said
‘No matter.’ he said.
The next day he came to check on the cat and I remembered my beloved grandfather who told me never to trust anyone who does not like cats. And I remembered my unfinished task from yesterday about finding something to hang clothes from. I showed Haris a sketch of a common or garden clothing rail. He looked nonplussed and then suggested that we make one.
The deeply impractical rail building took us around scrap yards, junk shops and welders. When we proudly tried to get our contraption home it emerged that it didn't fit through the front door, and we resorted to winching it up from the roof using a nylon washing line.
From that moment Haris became a stalwart friend, he came to Christmas lunch with my family and enjoyed my mum's Christmas pudding and his first experience of red wine. More recently he has become a colleague. He and I have travelled the length of Kerala talking to the temple umbrella makers and finding the right people to work with.
I have enormous respect for Haris, he is a man of possibility who makes things happen.
Haris and my mum celebrating Christmas.