up close and personal

A recent article on the other side of the Commonwealth games ended with these words: However, no amount of figures can mask the despair of those rendered homeless because of a mere 15-day ‘sporting’ event. “As a society, we have grown indifferent to equality around us. The poor are either seen as a nuisance or an encumbrance or embarrassment. Most of us are migrants to the city; if we are not being sent back, then why should labourers or beggars be made to go?” The article said much of what I have been writing for over a year now: displaced people, raised slums and so on: 3 million people will be rendered homeless by the time the show is on the road! Out of them the 1.5 million workers who were brought from other states to put the show on the road. I wonder why it took so long for the media to wake up to this realisation and to expose the sordid underside of things.

Now it is too late. We have become inured to too many aberrations and mastered the art of looking away.

For the past month I have been living with workers as my house is being repaired. It is true that there were instances in the past when I had come close to workers but that was before project why. In those days my eyes were closed as I did not see with my heart. This time is different. Workers are not just your irritating plumber who never comes on time or your loud mouthed mason, they are people whose life I have seen up close and personal.

All these workers are migrants who left their homes for a variety of reasons, the most common one being poverty. Many were brought by wily contractors and then just stayed on. Many have been in the city for decades. Murtaza is our masonry contractor. He came to the city 15 years ago as a young lad. He worked his way up slowly from daily wage labourer to mason, to small time contractor. He is the guy who will confidently quote you a price for a rood repair or bathroom tiling. Yet he is still illiterate. His acumen stems from his experience and common sense. Today his family has joined him and everyone works together: his father, father-in-law, uncles, nephews etc. So when he takes on a small contract the money remains within the family.

Nabi Karim is our paint contractor. He is also Meher's uncle! He too works with his family. Over the years, as his work became more lucrative, he brought his brothers, nephews and relatives from the village. The women and children were left at home. The city was not for them. And the land had to be tended too. This was the best option for all as the land was too little to feed everyone. Though still humble and unpretentious, he is slowly becoming big time!

The workers are a happy lot. They may not quite work according to your expectations but just stop and look at them with your heart. They turn up every day notwithstanding the weather and work in terrible conditions carrying loads on flimsy ladders or breathing dust and paint fumes. They work long hours without complaining breaking just for a cup of tea that I never fail to send or for lunch.

If you come by do not be surprised to hear music at every floor. Today's' worker has a new addition to his tool kit: a cell phone, and one that has an MP3 player. As you stroll along the house you will hear different songs: nostalgic songs from Bihar where some hail from or the more recent Bollywood numbers. These are often played by the younger workers. Most of the workers sheepishly come to you and ask if they can use a plug to charge their phones. Of course is my answer! Music does make the work less tedious.

The work is taking forever, but I am not complaining. I am quite enjoying sharing my space with these incredible and brave people who have learnt to survive in the worst conditions and come out winners. It is these people that some call a nuisance or an encumbrance. I just wonder what our life would be without them.