The builder

Came out from “Jazz by the Bay’, a club in Mumbai, into Marine Drive. Called the ‘Queens Necklace’, this area is among the most desirable and expensive real estate in Mumbai. Was approached by a really old bent and gnarled woman begging for some money. I asked her where she came from. ‘Sholapur’ she said, but had been in Mumbai for longer than she can remember. She left her village in search of food and a better life. A better life ?…..

She came to Bombay (as it was then), when some of the buildings were still being built on Marine Drive. She smiled almost with pride as she told me that she was a labourer working at Rs 1 per day in those days. And then her wages went up to Rs 1.50 per day. She swept her hand proudly as she pointed at some of the buildings she had helped build. Suddenly she was no longer a beggar, lost in the mass of people of the street that India prefers to forget in the mass hysteria of India’s new billionaires and stock market (over) valuations. She was an individual that had contributed to society.

I gave her some money, and as I drove away she was still smiling and waving at me. I think I reminded her of a time when she carried herself with pride and hope. Even at Rs 1.50 a day And my last image of her was this frail old woman sillouetted against the large imposing residences. Still waving.

And I thought ….

Each building must now be exchanging hands at values over $ 100 million. While an old woman that helped build it still begs on the streets.

58 thoughts on “The builder

  1. That Kedar dude is awesome. I imagined him foaming in his mouth as he pounded on his keyboard.

    Empathy is a word we don’t use enough. The story epitomises empathy. And that, weirdly enough, gives it an optimistic hue for me. Regardless of the writer’s intentions (I’m not doubting Shekhar’s intentions, but let’s say even if this was prompted by some self-serving, self-gratifying urge), if the story is able to resonate with a few and evoke some empathy, job’s done, no?

  2. Her labour was paid for, that will be the popular upmarket excuse.
    We almost share Kalmadi’s dementia when it comes to probing questions directed towards our conscience!
    Labour is cheap in this country as fresh migrants pour in our building hotspots which happen to be our metro’s.
    Metro life is eulogized all around the country.
    1.Toxicity of pollutant, Ah!
    2. Climate so hot that you always have to live inside AC, brilliant!
    3. Nobody walks for long, there are vehicles you can take (Don’t look at growing trend of obesity).
    4. There are mall, movies & restaurants all around! (Nobody mentions there are none for low-wage earners).

    We are in fact a hostage of the dream of taller city skylines, for we are too weak to climb the mountains. We need unskilled laborers like the lady, so that dream gets going. They will remain unskilled, temporary, unprotected workers who will become unemployed once that dream is built with concrete.
    We must ask our builders to compensate these workers well, we must ask that they are given decent housing or camps when the project is going, they must give them ESI and PF coverage, they must not use child labour. We won’t do that you know why? The labour cost will go up, our new homes will be costlier, We will be deeper in loan.

    So next time you buy a home or get a new office space, don’t ask who built it. Keep huge amount of quality scotch whiskey handy, in case your conscience bothers. Discover the kalmadi-style dementia in you.


  3. When the left hand does the charity, right hand should not come to know about it. it loses the entire purpose if it does.
    I am sure you objective is not to portray your kindness but what you learnt out of it. I see some sarcastic, negative and less appreciative comments for a simple incident that just made a difference to two fishes in the sea. (i.e. The Woman and You)
    We are so full of anger and an unintentional urge to prove everyone else wrong is what I learnt from the comments above, where do I post this? since I have no followers 🙂

  4. Dignity of labor, and so poignantly expressed. Thanks for sharing.
    On a different note….what is the minimum wage for hourly workers in India? here it is $5.75 (may be off by .25 cents)

  5. I recently started realizing how an experience like this, works subliminally in your brain and enriches your view of life. It’s amazing to see the impact of that incident on her, you and everyone reading the story. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Dear All,

    I have observed this disparity almost everywhere I have been in India. So, I guess by definition rich & poor have to exist and there would be a gap between them. Along with the gap come a lot of frills like “dignity”, “respect” etc. I had a pretty serious thought to join the communist parties just to get a hang of things.

    But now that I am in Kolkata, I can see the chaos created by the “equality”. When everyone can speak, everyone does & there is absolute chaos. Because both the persons are treated with equal respect irrespective of their social / economic status, none is better than the other. And thus the “tug” (can be termed as fight in most cases) goes on & on.

    The number of poor people in Kolkata hasnt subsided, if I am not wrong, and the poverty is visible everywhere. Poverty by economic terms doesnt mean that they are not happy or otherwise. And so, what I have come to understand is, we as human beings find pain no-matter-what. So, all these words are only about phrasing & rephrasing the same state.


  7. @shekharkapur Moving.reminds yet again how unorganised is constrcn sector, not thought of social security measures for its people.hence find it annoying when people rush for saving tigers, turtles (not that I have anything against them), but forget human beings down the value chain

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