Parked in front of a narrow alley in Gurugram’s Bhim Garh Kheri, the handcart is stacked with bricks. Two workers carry these to a house that is being built up the street. One of the men puts 18 stones on his back and walks towards the construction site. The stones are not tied together. The pile rests on a shred of strong jute fabric that appears to have once been part of a jute sack. The man’s back is bent forward.
He returns a few minutes later.
Worker Kishore, 22, says, “In the village, I would have worked as a mazdoor (worker) in the fields of the tall people and roughly. earned ₹200 daily. Here I earn ₹600. “
Kishore lives with a dozen other workers, all from the same district in Bihar.
Doesn’t it hurt to carry bricks on your back?
He shakes his head.
No back pain?
Kishore shakes his head.
Does a colleague suffer from pain?
“Sometimes the shoulders, legs or feet hurt, and then we massage (ourselves) with pure mustard oil.”
Kishore says there is no old person in his group. “Everyone is in their 20s or 30s.”
Workers carrying bricks on their backs like Kishore are scattered across the Delhi area. Their work lies outside the boundaries of formal construction projects, for example high-rise buildings where the wage workers are equipped with protective equipment. A group of such workers live behind the Delite Cinema in central Delhi – one of them is a gray-haired man in his fifties. During a recent interaction, he was reluctant to give his name, but described himself and his staff as “thele wale” which meant they were moving building materials (bricks / bags of cement) on their handcarts, usually with the last portion of the transport unfolding on the back. The gray-haired worker revealed that every worker – middle or young – suffers from body aches that become even more uncomfortable during the winter months. If it hurts too much, take paracetamol, he said.
The young Kishore returns to the cart with his back straight. He ponders for a long time where the workers go when they get old and their bodies can no longer withstand extreme stress. “You’re going back home.” He thinks again before adding: “Your sons have now grown up in the villages … they come to the city to work as workers and to earn money for the family.”
The gray-haired worker in Delhi had said the same thing.
Kishore now fetches a water bottle from the cart. The bottle is wrapped in a green gamcha. While drinking, some water flows out of Kishore’s mouth and rushes down his sweating neck. He puts bricks on his back again.