It all started on a narrow street in Shivajinagar for T Prakash and Reuban E who were friends and neighbours. In time they became business partners who paint signboards across the city.
"I would do very well in school and would always stand first or second in class but I had to discontinue after class six because my teacher would torture me after school hours and order me to do all her household work. I thought all teachers must be the same and lost interest in studying," he says.
Thus began Reuban's out-of-class education which saw him paint sign boards from age 18. "My mother took me to Dispensary Road and asked me to join others who were painting public walls with advertisements. I had no clue about what I had to do. I did that for a year working as a helper and painting signs. In 2000, Prakash and I thought we could go into business together and started our small sign painting shop in Shivajanagar," says Reuban.
Today, Reuban paints signs in nearly 14 languages, though the letters seem all gibberish to him. "Customers describe what they want and my brush does all the talking, says Reuban, who finds English and Urdu the easiest scripts to paint. "Kannada and Tamil letters are the most difficult," he adds.
As the year 2013 is all set to end, City Express moves away from the usual year-ender profiles. Instead, we present some unseen faces, who have been excelling in their respective fields or living a life that not many would imagine. In the next one month, we will bring stories of lesser-known people through our series 'Unseen Faces - 2013'.
Reuban lost his father early in life and his mother, who works as a cook in many homes, is his only support. "My sister works in an office," he says.
Despite Reuban's lack of formal training, being street smart has kept him up-to-date with changing trends in sign boards. He knows demand for manual painting is falling and being replaced by digital printing. "What Prakash and I have realised is that the life of a digital product is short, three years at best, while there is longevity in manual paintings. Sadly, since paints have become costlier, we too had move towards making digital prints. We do signs made on acrylic, LED, PVC, flex, vinyl, hoardings and such."
Most other signboard painters Reuban knew have quit and become autorickshaw drivers or take up odd jobs. "There was a time, we painted the whole town. I still remember, when the Santro car was introduced to Bangalore, Prakash and I used to paint at least 100 banners manually in a day. It was a good run for nearly three years," he says rushing back to another print order for a signboard.