City Life – Infrastructure Workers, Sarai Kale Khan
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The airy space high up between the two gigantic plinths is crisscrossed into a maze of grids, the kind printed in a school student’s maths notebook. From a distance, these grids appear to be made of metallic poles. A group of nine labourers are positioned across various spots of this densely woven interstice. One man has his feet perched on separate poles; one man is sitting on what might be a makeshift chair, his legs dangling in the air under him; one man has his limbs splayed out like Christ on cross.
The labourers are at work, here in Sarai Kale Khan, helping build a metro rail terminus which will link various commuting hubs in the vicinity, as part of the ambitious Rapid Regional Transport System (RRTS).
The scale of the project being extraordinarily massive, the sight echoes the monumental constructions of times past. Perhaps in a similarly muggy afternoon, all those centuries ago, a team of labourers might have sweated out in a similarly close camaraderie while building the Qutub Minar. Ditto for Purana Qila, Feroze Shah Kotla, Red Fort, Rashtrapati Bhawan, New Parliament building, and most recently Bharat Mandapam.
The labourers up there are impossible to approach. Most of the construction site is anyway blocked by giant metal barricades. But some distance away, four other labourers are at an early stage of raising a similar edifice of grids around a partially built plinth. “These are called vertical razor in English, and bhara in Hindi,” says one of the men, referring to the poles. Like all the labourers, he is in a red jacket and yellow helmet. “We are building a station for the Dilli-Meerut metro line,” he says, introducing himself and his colleagues. “Main hoon Muntazeer, he is Abid, he is Sachin, he is Mofeen, the youngest among us—he is our boss.” Everyone laughs, as the “boss” blushes. All four are from “zila Khagaria” in Bihar.
Muntazeer says that their daily shift hours on the site last between 8am and 8pm, with an hour-long lunch break. The “free” accommodation comprises of a shared room in a multi-storey building nearby. “Each room fits five-six men. One of us stays full-time at the room, cooking khana for all.” With sweat dripping nonstop from his forehead, Muntazeer takes off his helmet, keeping it atop a pole. Moments later, he wears it again.
While in the aforementioned high-altitude interstice between the two plinths, those men too are continuing to work.