Friday, November 2, 2007

The Ring Of Life

The lazy December Sun removed the black coverlet it slept under and as it yawned, the first rays of sunshine peeped into Firozabad and hesitated to announce the arrival of the day. It was a new day in the December of 1985.

These were also the sunrays of hope for two families in Firozabad – Isha brought joy to Mr. And Mrs. Sinha, then childless for 11 years; Asha brought another bread earner to a five-member family of Bangle makers. And both began their journey towards their destiny…

Isha started growing up with the entire household dancing attendance upon her at every instant. Asha was another burden on a family already struggling to make the ends meet. There was no food in the house on most days and not enough clothes for the baby. So, there she was – a hungry, naked baby – whose only purpose was to grow up and get to work.

As a toddler, Isha disliked milk and would make every attempt to avoid that glass of milk every night. Soon she discovered a way that saved her the trouble of downing that liquid and yet remain the apple of everyone’s eyes. On the pretext of having milk in the garden, she would take the glass and empty it the nearest rose bush. Somewhere, not very far, a hungry wallowing Asha would have just cried herself to sleep.

Soon, it was time for Isha to join Kindergarten. She liked school, they taught such fun things there – poems, games, craft and colouring…she loved colours. Asha had grown up too by this time…watching her two sisters join the glass coils together in the flame of Kerosene lamps to form bangles and her mother, colouring and polishing the bangles. She would watch her mother for hours…Oh! How she loved the colours!

When she joined Primary School, Isha turned out to be a very bright and active student. She would score well on all the exams. In addition, she started training to be an athlete. She liked to run…she liked that swiftness. She would run so fast she felt like she would start flying any instant. In no time, her coach took her to an inter-school athletics meet and she won the first prize in the 100 metres race. The Chief Guest awarded her with a Gold Medal strung in a Blue Ribbon, she was showing it off to everyone the rest of the day.

That day was also the day when Asha made Bangles out of one whole glass coil all by herself – 312 of them. She had aligned them, joined them, painted them Blue and then polished them all by herself, sitting in the same crouched position for 2 days. She was fast, her mother had told her. Today, Asha had fulfilled her purpose…the family would get an additional Rs. 3 for the glass coil that Asha had completed. She was showing off the bunch of bangles to her siblings the whole day.

Isha was a sturdy child and remained so while she was growing up. But she would get a bad bout of cough and cold every time the season changed. Her mother would prepare some Kaadha* for her and she would be alright in 2-3 days. Asha would keep coughing too…now and then…but nobody ever noticed. The cough would subside by itself and Asha would get back to work.

Asha’s cough got worse and often she would be in bed for 3-4 days away from the Kerosene lamp and the bangles. She would feel better soon and get back to work. The bangles continued to be made and sent to Bangle Sellers in the City Market. She could not afford to be away from work for too long.

Even as Isha was about to graduate from college, her parents were receiving alliances from prospective grooms, all asking for their beautiful and talented daughter’s hand in marriage. One of the alliances, which came through family friends, was from an Engineer settled in Canada. Isha’s parents thought it would be a good match for their daughter and invited the boy’s family over to meet Isha. The rendezvous went on till late in the evening at the end of which the alliance was finalized. The marriage was to take place within a month as the groom was flying to India for a very short period. That night, Isha went to bed blushing deeply and dreaming of life in Canada.

Asha was on a bed in the Government Hospital that night. She had coughed up blood that afternoon while working. She had been coughing very violently and almost constantly of late. The doctor asked her mother some questions, drew a blood sample from her left arm and returned some time later to announce that Asha was suffering from Tuberculosis. Asha sobbed herself to sleep dreaming scary dreams.

On one hand, preparations for Isha’s marriage were in full swing; on the other, Asha had been in the hospital for almost 3 weeks then. The shopping for the marriage was almost complete with only accessories remaining to be bought. So, Isha called up 2 of her college friends to accompany her. They arrived in the City Market to buy fancy footwear, trinkets and bangles to match her ensemble. They went to the Bangle Store just before leaving and started to look around.

Isha was to wear a Blue coloured Sari for the reception and she picked up a dozen Blue-coloured bangles. She felt the glass to check if they were strong enough. In a hospital room, a grim doctor felt Asha’s dropping pulse. Isha held them against the light to see if the colour was consistent…the blue sunrays filtered through the glass and fell on Isha’s face. The doctor checked Asha’s eyes but they were dull, devoid of all light. As Isha was checking the bangles for size, she heard the musical jingle of the bangles. The doctor heard Asha’s laboured breathing. The bangles were perfect! Isha decided to buy the blue-bangles. As she handed the bangles to the shopkeeper, one of them hit the counter and broke into pieces. Asha stopped breathing. Isha picked up another similar bangle, paid for the bangles and walked off. Meanwhile, another girl, another bread earner was born somewhere in Firozabad who would make more bangles.

They were two children, born at the same moment with the same stars in their horoscope…one died uncared for in a hospital bed; the other followed her destiny to Canada. They were two children, connected by more than their stars, connected by a fragile glass ring…the ring of life.

Approximately 20,000 children work in the glassmaking and bangle-making business in Firozabad. Children as young as five work for eight hours or more in the dark rooms of their homes. Girls are usually involved in the first step of the process called “aligning”. They use kerosene or gas to apply heat to the ends of the bangles, staring into the small flames for hours and breathing in the gas fumes. The boys work mostly on the next step of the process, called “joining”—using gas or heat to complete the round shape. They, too, spend hours sitting in crouched positions, working with flames and breathing in unhealthy air. Together, the families turn the coils into bunches of bangles. Each coil makes 312 bangles for which a family earns 2.25 rupees—just five US cents—for aligning and joining.

Source: Beautiful Bangles Tell An Ugly Story About Child Labor In India By Kirsten Hongisto (November 6, 2006)

*Kaadha: A medicinal preparation of herbs that relieves cough.


Sur said...

A very poignant article Anupama, the disparity in the two lives is what is most noticeable. And come to think of it all this just for a mere Rs 3 per day, its really shameful.

Aditi aka Jiggs said...

Really touching story, brings out the indiffernce that exsist in our society
to think of the meaning of Rs 3
really takes off words out of my mouth .

NEHA CHANDOK!!!!! said...

the story leaves me speechless, with a strange feeling! really touches the deepest chord of my heart!

ShAkE Inc. said...

such a moving tale...the glaring disparities have been brought up so sensibly and beautifully. extremely well written!

Anupama Kondayya said...

Hey Sur,

Shameful it sure is! Considering that we don't even get a cup of tea for Rs. 3 and some family somewhere is adding up all the Rs. 3 they get just so they can get a meal!Thanks for the comment.

Hey Aditi,

I am sure we from the fast food generation are going to value our money a little more because so little of it means so much to someone else...thanks for the comment!

Hey Neha,

Your story does the same to me! Thanks for the comment.

Hey Shake Inc.,

Thank you so much for the appreciation...waiting to read your, Sur's and Aditi's words :)

RADhika said...

It is indeed a touching story. I just cannot express how i am feeling right now..

thinker-girl said...

somehow, the fact the bangles were blue touched me. do i sound superficial? i dono, but i think it made a big difference that they were blue - the colour of cold liquidity, and of the oppressed human. nice stoy :)

Anupama Kondayya said...

Hey Thinker-Girl,

I just realized when you pointed out that blue is also the colour of sadness as in when one says 'I am feeling blue'...thats how I was feeling when I wrote the story and hence maybe unknowingly Blue is the colour that came to mind...thanks for the comment!

harshad said...

Very well written. In fact i couldn't make out that the story was written by an rookie(forgive me if i have used an inappropriate word 'rookie')....... I wont say the story line was intriguing, coz i think its not just a story but the bitter truth of th moment. It is sad indeed to know that there are ppl who are underprivilegded to a large extent........keep up the good work anupama.

Anupama Kondayya said...

Thanks you so much for the comment Harshad! Looking forward to reading from you...

Utsarg said...

Indeed a thought-provoking article. Will not call it story as it dilutes the gravity of the issue.

Thing that bothers me is that if today we don't even get a cup of tea for Rs. 3, then why is the family still selling bangles for Rs.3? Won't it be better for the family to sell tea instead? Why stick to an age-old profession if it is not commercially viable in today's world? Once these guys stop producing bangles and work on something else, with shortage in supply of bangles, surely price of bangle will go up, and they will get their due.

Would like to know what junta feels about it.