Episode 4 : factories.
Hand embroidery unit with Zakir Bhai censor.
Ansar-ul gets poetic justice via rude kid in red.
The day goes by. All work and some passive play.
I my love India...
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Parts of Khirkee Extn. and all of Hauzrani (Malvia Nagar and Khirkee village excluded) come under zones demarcated for small-scale industrial units. The basements of each lane and warren are host to small one room Karkhanas and workshops, carpentry, hand embroidery, zari and ari work, leather goods manufactures and small tailoring outfits; catering largely to boutique work in Delhi and India.
Child labour, crammed, unhygienic, exploitative and horrifying work conditions are what one expects to witness when we imagine a zari or leather unit. One repeatedly reads of human trafficking, bonded labour, police raids and rescue missions by ngo’s.
On our first walk itself, less than 300 metres from Khoj, (again in Hauzrani) I had peered into the Roshandaans, (ventilators) on the floor level of buildings and looking into basement karkhanas, mostly hand-embroidery units.
I ventured into the same one I had seen a week ago, the owner lived upstairs, I was told. Zakir Bhai, the factory owner was from Bengal. He said he had worked in Bombay, but the work conditions were appalling there, and he fled soon after the ‘92 riots. He also worked as a supervisor in a sweat-shop for a large export firm in Noida, before starting out on his own…I didn’t like working there, but I did learn some good things…one must keep the place clean and safe…he pointed to several fans, bright lights and a fire extinguisher mounted on the wall and a dabba service that brought in lunch for all the workers.
We went into all the factories in that lane. A lot of the owners were away, and follow-up calls and visits through the day and we had fixed up with 4 karkhanas for the next day. Offering to come in with spy-cams and record the activities in the workshop didn’t perturb any of the owners; they trusted us, and we told them the reason for doing this was so that the workers could get to know what else went on in the hidden basements of the lane, and be able chat and communicate, with each other as they worked their drudgery away.
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The nature of this episode was going to be different from the others. It was in a sense closest to a CCTV set-up, except here we were connecting 4 exclusive workspaces, labour under different contractors. We were going to install Khirkeeyaan for an entire 8-hour shift. (This isn’t a working shift-they work in upto 12-hour shifts.)
Two embroidery units, a leather unit and a tailoring unit, all down one lane and a T-bylane. The tailoring unit had only 3 people working and they were alone, with no supervisor to watch over them. The leather unit was a small crammed space with 30 workers hammering away, making leather purses on the floor. Their owner allowed them all to interact with the system as they worked. Zari Unit One, had a minder present, and dear amicable Zakir Bhai, owner of Zari Unit Two sat on a charpai all day, becoming a physical censor for the entire screen space.
The workers worked through the day, taking their lunch and tea breaks, Ansar-Ul one of the tailors was the most talkative. He hailed from Ranchi, in Jharkhand---the Bari of Dhoni, he proudly proclaimed. He spoke Hindi, Urdu, Bhojpuri, Bengali, Santhali…
As soon as he laid out this ‘bio-data, people started responding in all the languages…
Friendships were forged, on the basis of native village or district or proximity of their workplace to each other… poetry was shared, barters and deals struck:
“Tehmat-banyan valle purse bhaiya, PurseMaker brother in the vest and sarong, will you make me a purse?” I will, if you stitch a Salwar suit for my wife…Of course I will, it takes me only a couple of hours to stitch a suit. “
Where is your shop? Its at the end of the lane,…Well so is mine…that means your just opposite me, like next door? Yes. All right then, I recognize you now, we shall meet for tea then after work.
There were long periods of concentrated work, Zakir bhai had a sound-system in his unit and the mic would often rest in front of it. Bengali songs were piped into the four factories and they all echoed with mixed rhythm of labour; whirring of sowing machines, hammering on leather. Post lunch, when the match began, Ansar-ul would frequently tune in and share the score and commentary with all.
Disarming and sincere Ansar-ul had a stammer. At around four, the local Chai-boy did the rounds of 3 of the units with tea…ansar-ul asked him to come to his unit too and give them some tea too. The Chai boy was rude. “I’m not going to come to you with just 2 cups…
After his chai rounds were done, the ChaiBoy settled in front of the tv in Zakir bhais shop. He began to rudely take Ansar-uls case by making fun of his speech disability…
Dh-dh-dhoni ke bhaisab…brother of Dh-dh-dhoni…
Ansar-ul was not amused. For the first time there was defiance and anger on his face, he kept taking gulps of water and ironing out his embarrassment.
“Why are you talking like this, speak nicely for god’s sake.” But the ChaiBoy, was unrelenting. Ansar-uls co-worker grabbed the mic and asked the ChaiBoy if there was something stuck in his throat…do you need some water? Ansar-ul chucked water at the screen attempting to feed him…but the Chai boy went on. Ansar-ul, angry, red in the face retreated to his sowing machine in the background. A while later…he entreated with Zakir Bhai…”Please tell him something. If he wants to chat, then he should speak properly, right.”
He appears to be a relative of Bush’s. So there’s nothing I can do”, said Zakir Bhai …. Ansar-ul silent, got back to machining… Chaiboy taunted again…”say something…tongue-tied, are we! Bolti bandh ho gayeee! “
2 minutes later, a rude young kid in a red t-shirt entered the Zari Unit Two and sat in front of the mic….He yelled out to the Chaiwalla….”Chaiwalla brother….where’s your mother….? I’ll tell you…she’s waiting by the school for my father…” A volley of rude innuendo and insults followed…in the end, the ChaiBoy was silenced.
Rude kid said….”Say something, na….tongue-tied are we! Bolti bandh ho gayeee! Ansarul smiled shyly from his place by machine in the top left of frame.
At Namaaz time, a kid from zari unit 2 sang Bismillah and other prayers. Then the TV and camera in that quadrant went off for the duration of prayer.
Hindi remixes were piped in the evening…at the end of the day Zakir Bhai asked Ansar-Ul…
“How many runs do you think Dhoni will make...?
Will India win the match….?
Of Course they will…if India loses, ill give up tailoring…
Don’t say that brother…!
I my love India. We shall win.
India did win the match. And a day later, Mahindar Singh Dhoni clinched top ratings as the worlds best batsman in ODI’s.
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