City Life – Three Labourers, Pragati Maidan
Builders of a new city.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The air is laden with dust. The temperature is so high that the body seems to be on a slow roast.
In such a setting, a new world is coming up, gradually, steadily, here on Mathura Road. This stretch overlooks Pragati Maidan, whose exhibition complexes were demolished some years ago to make way for new landmarks. The construction isn’t complete, yet one can see the new structures. Many seem to be towards completion, though still encased in scaffolding. Some are overlooked by high cranes.
This burning afternoon, the road is almost empty, which is a pity. Everybody who is fascinated by how cities alter ought to take a walk here. It’s the equivalent of surveying New Delhi while it was being built by the British.
The air is silent, except for the droning sound of a bulldozer ramming its sharp teeth into the roadside tarmac. A dozen of labourers are digging the ground with their shovels. It is impossible to confirm if they are part of a vast group of labourers assigned with the area’s wider redevelopment, or part of a more focused assignment. They themselves have no idea.
“We have been put to work by a contractor, our job is to dig the ground,” says Sanju. He is at work on the roadside with colleagues Uday Bhan and Vinod. Only Sanju is in shoes, the other two are in slippers. All the three men have been on the site “for many days”, and all are from Jhansi, in UP’s arid Bundelkhand region. “We have agricultural land at home” Sanju says. “But we want to see the duniya, so we came to work in Delhi for a while.”
The other two men silently nod. A while later Uday Bhan adds that “we each get 450 rupees daily for our work.” The three men live “with many other labourers” in a city stadium.
Sanju confesses neither he nor his friends know what exactly will come up on the ground they are diggging. “May be a chabutara for pigeons,” says Uday Bhan, but he says it so solemnly that one isn’t sure if he means it as a joke.
The earth is wet and suddenly Vinod’s feet sink deep into the ground, as if it were a quicksand. Sanju laughs loudly. Vinod takes off his feet from within the earth, but the slippers stay within. He has to take them out with his hands.
Then, they get back into work.
On the margins of new landmarks