I will go backwards telling about my experience of the past week. Moving in this direction, this article would include my ultimate days – training at Udaipur with co-fellows and penultimate days – initial days with Aajeevika Bureau where i am placed as an India Fellow, from the stand point of today.
Yesterday I walked past a gully which did not give me space to catch any other scent other than that of liquor. People were squatting here and there and drinking. One guy was swaying like a pendulum. He was coughing and walking in oscillations; and I would not be surprised if he has fallen somewhere a few moments later. Gujarat really is a dry state, but it is in terms of rainfall. Yeah, it’s so hot in here and the sun just refuses to set. One would work till 8 in the night if there were no clocks to check.
On one side of this alley were tents which were not bigger than camping tents. Perhaps I did not ask my colleague if these were homes of people, knowing for sure that they were. I saw women swinging their cradles and children playing around them. The purpose of coming here was to visit the community kitchen in this area. In the midst of all this, the small room felt very refreshing. It had 7 to 8 people there, all in the prime of their youth and seemed very good natured and appeared ‘sensible’.
I think they actually followed the norms of the dry state, unlike folks outside. Needs more time spending to verify though. One person was kneading the dough and another operating the stove. This community kitchen started as a CSR activity of HPCL which helped in covering the installation costs of the stove and cylinder. It now sustains on its own by charging five rupees to anyone who has a meal there. The cooking is done by the workers themselves. Many of the migrant workers (from southern Rajasthan who have come here in ahmedabad) who live in slums, due to identity proof primarily, cannot get access to LPG cylinders. They usually end up buying fuels like kerosene at inflated costs which further heightens their food expenditure. This community kitchen seemed like a good solution to these issues.
Cut to yesterday morning’s experience. I went to a naka, a labour market, where workers sell (‘rent’ might be a more appropriate word) their labour to Thekedars (contractors). I tried counting and there were nearly hundred people assembled at that point in time. There are many such nakas in other parts of Amdavad. Rough estimate could be again somewhere around eighty. To spell out, people come here and find their work on a day-to-day basis. Some get work for four days, some for seven days, some get for even longer time, it depends. There were a few tea stalls and but none of them were buying any tea. Why would they?
Their mouths were busy chewing tobacco. Almost everyone chews. Their teeth have become permanently reddish brown. To check how many people have this habit, I was looking at their mouth when they were talking. I do not know if their strange behaviour towards me was for this.
My conclusion is that almost everyone chews. Conventionally, having high cheek bones is glamorous. All these people have high cheek bones and let me warn, they do not look very glamorous. This high cheek bone phenomenon is the result of hollow cheeks and not some bone structure. I can safely generalize this. I’m afraid however if his is cutting a sorry state of them. They all actually seemed very happy with some chit chatting and others having fun at the cost of each other.
They might not be customers of chai-wallahs but they are regarded as important consumers for some other enterprises. One such enterprise which was present was a local balm maker, wherein the person was applying free balm to anyone who was curious about his product!
I started writing this piece thinking of sharing my experiences of past one week. But a day’s description has spread so long. I just feel so tempted to talk about my experience of the training days at Udaipur. Whoa, so much in two weeks! I started writing from latest experience as I just feel excited even thinking of those fourteen days and thought of postponing it to the end of the blog. But may be not now.
About The Author: Vinay Ramakrishna, 2014 Cohort Fellow, worked with Aajeevika Bureau in Ahmedabad, predominently understanding seasonal migration in the south Rajasthan – Gujarat route