At a construction site in Adyar dust billows from a concrete mixer and creates grey smog across the premises. A multi-storeyed building is being erected here.
There is a constant cacophony. A spade strenuously scratches the ground to pick up the last traces of cement. Another brick gets laid on an unfinished wall. Two women adjust the padding on their head before they pick up another pack of sand and stones. Someone swears in rustic Hindi.
In this hullabaloo, sits a five-year-old boy, Anny, comfortably making small clay toys. Yes, clay models of pots, people, cups and plates, and even some obscure ones. He sports a striped vest and shorts, and, with his tiny hands, moulds the clay to give shape to his imagination.
Anny is the son of two migrant construction workers from Berhampur town of the eastern state of Odisha, who moved to Chennai in search of work six months ago. Anny’s parents are not the only ones; records state that there are over 10 lakh migrant workers in Tamil Nadu.
Anny and his parents live in a small make-shift shack in the basement of the building that is being raised—walls have been built up to the second storey. A pungent smell of wet cement mixed with the smoke of wood that they burn to cook meals emanates from these shacks.They lead a meagre life because out of their small earning they save a large percentage, probably to take back home and start a new life there.
Anny’s father is presently working on the outer walls of the third floor. Perched on a wooden platform—that is made to stand on a bamboo skeleton clinging onto the outside of the building—Anny’s father slaps the prepared concrete-mix over the laid bricks. There is no precautionary safety-belt attached to his waist to prevent a mishap lest he loses balance.
Anny’s mother, wearing an oversized shirt and a long skirt, carries crates of concrete on her head to the various labourers who stack it on to the wall.
Little Anny’s smile is distinct and his clay designs innovative. He doesn’t go to school, neither does anyone teach him art. All day long, all he sees is his father up there, putting concrete paste on walls, and his mother making one trip after other with crates on her head. In his effort to pass time and kill boredom, Anny comes up with new designs.
Anny is unperturbed, it seems, by the tribulations of being a migrant construction worker’s son. Anny doesn’t know about Ranjith Biswal. A twenty-year-old migrant worker from Odisha, Biswal, lost his life when a 70-tonne crawler carrying a 22-tonne load came crashing down on him at the Saidapet metro construction site.
Not only Biswal—according to a recent Times of India report about 100 migrant workers have died in construction sites in greater Chennai itself in the past two years.Safety measures taken in construction sites across the city have been questioned by activists.
Anny could have been Biswal’s son too.