The other day, while returning from work, a teenaged boy—wearing a loose-fit trouser and a faded red t-shirt, his hair in a mess—approached me at the Rajiv Chowk metro station. He looked bewildered.
“Bhaiya, Noida City Centre ke liye kaunsi metro leni hai?”1 he asked.
Since I was going to Mayur Vihar, I asked him to wait there itself with me. I told him that he would have to board the same train as I. He was a little doubtful, but then nodded. Waiting for the Noida-bound metro to snake into the platform, I asked him where he had come from.
“Humara naam Pankaj hai. Hum Samastipur se hain,”2 he said. Like a true Bihari, he referred to himself in the plural.
I asked him what brings him to Delhi.
Before he could answer, the metro entered the station and halted. After the customary beep, its doors opened and a sea of humanity poured out onto the platform.
“Hum carpenter aur plumber ka kaam karte hain bhaiya. Noida mein ek construction company mein kaam karne aayein hain,”3 Pankaj said as we stepped into the train.
His eyes drifted to the electronic destination-map above the compartment door. As the pointer for Noida City Centre glowed red, showing the last stoppage, Pankaj heaved a sigh of relief.
“Pichle baar hum HUDA City Centre ke taraf chale gaye the galti se. Iss baar sahi hai.”4 He smiled. He could read both Hindi and English, I figured.
Pankaj told me that he had reached Delhi that morning from Bihar, and after paying a visit to his brother, who runs an eatery near the New Delhi metro station, he came to Rajiv Chowk to board a metro to Noida.
I asked him whether it was his first time in Delhi. Shaking his head, he said, “Nahi, pehle bhi kaam kar chuke hain Noida mein. Phir ghar chale gaye the.”5 But, he said that it was his first metro ride, as he has always preferred buses in Delhi—koi confusion nahi aur koi checking bhi nahi.6
Pankaj explained that when, in 2012, he failed in his twelfth standard exams and their family was faced with financial constraints he had to start earning. He moved to Delhi and by apprenticeship and hard work, he soon picked up the tricks of the trade of carpentry and plumbing, and started off on his own.
Now, he boasted, he earns more than what his brother running the eatery in New Delhi does.
“Pura sola hazaar rupaye ki kamai,” he said, “har mahine pitaji ko bhejte hain. Wo uss paise ko kheti mein laga dete hain.”7
I was intrigued. You do keep something for yourself, Pankaj, don’t you?
“Nahin, pura paisa bhej dete hain. Yahan akela aadmi kuch karke reh lete hain.”8
He added that his brother helps him out sometimes with his daily expenses—food and lodging.
I asked him why he chose to be a carpenter and that too in Delhi. Why not in Samastipur, or for that matter in Patna?
Keeping his gaze fixed on the passing landscape through the window—the colossal Akshardham temple, sparkling in the glare of the night lamps—Pankaj said, “Bihar mein log mazak udaenge, ki dekho school mein fail karke mazdoor ban gaya.”9
He went on. “Yahan hum izzat se kaam karke paisa kaama rahein hai. Aur itna paisa peon type ki naukri mein kabhi nahi kama pate.”10
He said that the agricultural activity in their farm was going well unlike earlier times. Wheat and maize cultivation has been quite good this season—around 30 quintals each.
I asked him about Noida, whether he likes it as a place to live in and work.
“Noida achchi jagah hai shayad… aap jaise logon ke liye,”11 he said nonchalantly. I was slightly taken aback.
“Kyun?”12 I asked
“Matlab, hamare liye kya acha kya bura. Ek ghar banate hain, phir wo ban jane ke baad wahan se chale jatein hein kahin aur”13
I couldn’t disagree. I nodded.
“Aur carpentry ka kaam kaisa hai bhaiya?”14
He explained that sometimes he has to stand on wooden platforms barely 9 inches wide against the outer side of a window on the uppermost floors of twenty-storeyed buildings and make certain fittings.
“Safety belt nahi detein hain aapko?”16
“Kabhi kabhi dete hain. Lekin humko nahin lagta ki agar bees talle se girenge toh uss belt se kuch ho paega.”17
Pankaj yawned, looked around and observed our co-passengers—people irrespective of class and creed, from corporate employees to daily-wage labourers like Pankaj himself. I observed that his hair was powered with dust, probably the manifestation of a general compartment travel from Bihar to Delhi.
“Aap kya karte hain bhaiya?”18 he asked me after a while. I told him I was a ‘patrakar’19.
“Matlab paper mein aapka likha chapta hain?”20
Lying, I nodded.
I asked him, then, of his own future plans—if he wanted to take his class 12 exams again.
“Nahi bhaiya, hum toh AITT ka exam denge, form fill up kar diye” 21
I later found out that AITT stood for All India Trade Test which is conducted by the National Council of Vocational Training (NCVT). Skilled technical workers both private candidates and ITI pass outs can appear for this exam, and after succeeding in it the worker is awarded the National Trade Certificate in the concerned trade. That certificate, Pankaj told me, easily paves your way to public sector jobs.
He said, “Aap ko pata hai ki bathroom mein floor se kitna upar basin fit karte hain?”22
I shook my head.
“Latrine ka flush kaise kaam karta hai?”23
I answered in the negative, again. I didn’t tell him that I had graduated as a civil engineer.
He grinned and said, “Yahi sab puchega exam mein. Likh denge… hum ko aata hai.”24
The metro soon chugged into Mayur Vihar. I wished him luck for his exam and started pushing my way towards the door.
“Phir milenge,”25 Pankaj said.
“Zaroor,”26 I said and debarked.
1. Brother, which metro line should I take to reach Noida City Centre?
2. My name is Pankaj. I’m from Samastipur (Bihar).
3. I work as a carpenter and plumber. I’ve come to work with a construction company in Noida.
4. Last time I caught the HUDA City Centre bound metro. This time it’s all right.
5. No, I have worked in Noida before. I had gone home for a few days.
6. There is neither any confusion regarding routes, nor any security checks.
7. I send my entire income of Rs 16,000 to my father. Back home, he spends the money on our farm.
8. No, I send the entire amount home. I live alone in Delhi and don’t have much expenditure; I manage somehow.
9. People in Bihar would have made fun of me, saying that since this boy failed in his Class 12 exams, he has become a labourer.
10. But here, no one disrespects my work and I earn good money. Had I opted for a peon’s job I could have never earned this much.
11. Noida is a good place may be, but only for people like you.
13. I mean, what’s good or bad for us? We build a house and then move away from there after it’s build.
14. And how’s your carpentry going?
15. It’s risky.
16. Don’t they give you safety belts to wear?
17. They give sometimes. But I personally feel that if I fall down from the twentieth storey, then that belt won’t help.
18. Where do you work, brother?
20. So, are your writings are published in the newspaper?
21. No brother, I will take the AITT exams, have filled up the form.
22. Do you know at what height, from the floor, do we fix the basin in the bathroom?
23. How does the flush in your toilet work?
24. These are the things they will ask in the exam. I know the answers…can write nicely in the exam.
25. See you
The photographs used in the story have been clicked using a Samsung S Duos phone and edited using Instagram.