City Life – Five Comrades, Gurgaon Railway Station
Band of brothers.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It’s a miserably humid afternoon and all the five guys are drenched in sweat.
Pradeep, Sonu, Pintu, Naveen, and Parveen are lounging in an airy and less-crowded corner of Gurugram railway station in the Greater Delhi Region. Pradeep is smoking a beedi, so is Sonu, who has an eagle tattoo on his biceps. Naveen is concernedly examining his blistered hand. “It’s because of cement… tonight I’ll rub mustard oil.”
All the men, in their 20s, are “palledars,” or labourers, who unload cement sacks from goods trains, the only tool at their disposal is a hooked metal tool called kundi.
The poker-faced Parveen suddenly utters a line in a singsong tune: “Socha tha banege kalakar, ban gaye palledar (Dreamed of becoming an actor, ended up as palledar).”
Everyone laughs except for Parveen whose face remains expressionless.
This is an old joke among these men and was first uttered by a common friend who went to Calcutta hoping to become a movie actor but ended up as a palledar.
All the men are from Meerut and frequently come to Gurgaon railway station on the summons of a contractor.
“Same mazdoori (labour) in Meerut station but less money,” says one. The rate for unloading a single sack is 2.30 rupees in Gurgaon compared to1.5 rupees in Meerut.
Each labourer handles 3,000 sacks daily.
“By the end of the day we are as dead as a cement sack,” half-jokes the man with the eagle tattoo.
The labourers, however, have learned to make the best out of the situation. “We always dine early at night,” says Naveen, “after which each of us gulps down a peg of desi daru, just 50 rupees, and that guarantees a quick long sleep. The tiredness goes away.”
The men nod, and comradely pass around a bottle of chilled water.
Band of palledars