Rajinder is fuming. There is a stream of media persons in front of his home on the footpath, asking him the same questions time and again, taking notes, clicking snaps and then vanishing away. All these are hampering his work, wasting time; moreover he has to wear a khaki shirt all day long. Who’s going to show such a body blackened with stains of work?
It’s Goaltuli, in the heart of Kanpur. Not exactly a slum, there are big houses, alleys within alleys, homes therein, shanties, all possible kinds of homes. The drainage of the city is flowing besides like a river, with garbage and filth.
The sudden attention Rajinder attracted is because of the fact that World Bank president had visited his home cum workshop just a day before. Ministers, commissioners, officers and media persons came along. World Bank president, while in Kanpur, went to Goaltuli to preview a project. Walking a few meters he reached in front of Rajinder’s home, probably asked him some questions too. Seeing Goaltuli, World Bank president felt that it would be a crime not to alleviate poverty forever. He also said that Uttar Pradesh is home to 8 per cent of world’s poor. It is an international responsibility to fight against poverty in UP. Therefore, as some residents of Goaltuli have deduced, the poverty alleviation in Goaltuli has thus become an international duty too. Rajinder has no respite as media continues to visit him to get details of his ‘conversation with World Bank'.
“Nothing at all. I wanted to say something which Madam did not allow. Oh, what a crowd!”, Rajinder said as he tried to chase away at least the mischievous children surrounding him. The crowd around was alert enough to point out that the referred “madam” is municipal commissioner of Kanpur. Rajinder and his family fabricate leather belts for powerloom machines according to dice. Leather, cut to different sizes are all scattered around his home. You can call it a manufacturing unit too as there are some tools for cutting and fitting into size there.
Rajinder is fuming that he will be asked the same questions he had answered many a time in the last few hours. “Why? Do you want to listen my janmakundali ( life cycle)? What purpose will it serve for you, what for me?” he rebuked me. Of course, he later told everything. A dalit, he works with leather, collect orders from small firms, mainly leather springs of machineries, sometimes an order forces him to hire one or two boys from the area too, to speed up the work. Through this, he has been able to send his eldest boy to college. It is his son, who has explained to him what the World Bank means.
Most of the residents of Goaltuli are workers of some kind, a lot of them scavengers. Many of them are ex-workers of ex-factories, series of factories that closed one after another in Kanpur. Many of them had special skills such as making shoes, making utensils of tin using pumping ovens, cane work, etc. All are past, as all are made in factories today. Now there is no special category for the workers in Goaltuli, any job will do. New factories that have come up in the new industrial hub have not offered enough scope for Goaltuli, as contractors employ workers there. Sanjoy Singh, a construction worker, just returned from Dubai. He was narrating his latest experiences to his friends when World Bank entered. That annoyed him too.
Not just the workers, even the famed shop of Chiranjee Lala in Goaltuli also suffered a setback. Everything discovered in the world were available in Lala’s shop. Residents of other areas too came to Goaltuli for shopping. People of Goaltuli are pained that the shop has suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Malls and big shops in the market. “This is market, you know, big will swallow small, newer will thrash out older”, said Kishanlal, a hardened majdoor.
He explained that prior to the visit of World Bank president, approaching road to alleys got a patchwork, manholes were covered, bleaching powder was sprayed in drain. All, in the first 500 yards. The rest of Goaltuli remained as it was – open drains, no sanitation facilities, manholes with no cover, roads resembling tunnels. Even the tank for drinking water was constructed through collecting donations from residents. Electricity is there, but very few evenings there has been power. That is, however is not a problem for Goaltuli, residents here can see in darkness too.
“Nothing will happen after this World Bank visit”, said Baua, another worker. “Some projects may come, contractors will get richer, we will endure another illusion for some time and thereafter everything will be same”.
Debasish Chakraborty/ Kanpur