Cityscape and Citizenship: Interview with Bulldozer Driver Sanjay
Director: Madhusree Dutta
Duration: 00:17:51; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 288.239; Saturation: 0.045; Lightness: 0.334; Volume: 0.167; Cuts per Minute: 0.952; Words per Minute: 151.367
Summary: This interview is shot in a workshop of Tarmat Infrastructural & Engineering Ltd. It is an international company which provides construction vehicles such as cranes, bulldozers, cement mixers etc. This workshop is meant for maintenance of the vehicles. So there would be hundreds of big vehicles, some old and rusted and yet some others freshly painted lie all over the huge campus. The workshop was a temporary one with a very small office in the middle of it. Goregaon east at that time was at the height of construction activities with buildings coming up under SRA (slum rehabilitation authority) scheme, new sky scrapers and shopping mall being under construction and adjacent forest land being released. The frenzy of construction activity required a vehicle repair workshop in the vicinity. We met Sanjay in the Nagri Nivara Hakk Samiti (Citizens' Housing Rights Association) office. He was a migrant worker from UP. He worked in various capacities as casual worker and was unemployed when we met him. His casual work briefs also included demolishing huts of the 'illegal' migrants. So he did – demolished huts of the people who are like him, for his livelihood. Finally one day he had to demolish his own home. With 55% to 60% population in this city living in slums and shanties this might be a regular occurrence when one is hired to destroy one's own life in order to make place for 'development'.
At the maintenance workshop of Tarmat Infrastructure & Engineering Ltd (construction vehicle dealer company). The workshop is surrounded by many construction sites. We can see a frenzy of construction activities in the background – razing of hills, busy traffic of loading trucks and big cranes in the background. The ambience sound of the construction works. Casual worker Sanjay comes to give interview at the appointed time at noon – dressed in his best. He stands next to a dismantled truck in blue which looks like an industrial fossil.
MD: Please tell us your name, where you stay and where you're from?
Sanjay: My name is Sanjay Kumar Bharti, I have come from Appapada.
MD: Sanjay, there's a lot of noise. Please repeat what you've said loudly, you know like they do in interviews?
Mukul: A little louder.
Sanjay: My name is Sanjay and I've come from Appapada. And what else should I say, can you tell me?
MD: Ok. Where are you from?
Sanjay: I'm from UP.
MD: Where abouts in UP?
Mukul: Which village?
MD: He's also from UP, which is why he is asking you.
Mukul: So, how long have you been here?
Sanjay: I've been here since 96.
Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh
Tarmat Workshop, Dindoshi, Goregaon (E), Mumbai
MD: What made you come here? Did you have relatives here?
Sanjay: I came here because everyone would say that Mumbai is this wonderful place and I came here and realised that it is full of hardships.
MD: Ok. So back in the village they say Mumbai is a nice place. So what do they say about Mumbai?
Sanjay: They say that it's a wonderful land and there's plenty of money and you should go there for work.
MD: So how old were you?
Sanjay: I'm 1978 born so I'm 27 years old.
MD: So how old were you when you came here?
Sanjay: I came here in 1996, so I was 22.
MD: So how did it feel once you arrived here?
Sanjay: It felt nice. After I arrived I looked for work. Although, it was very difficult to get here. Should I talk about difficulties?
MD: Yes, tell us.
Sanjay: When I came to Mumbai, I had a friend called Mohan. So, he gave me the address of a place in MIDC (Industrial estate) and said he would be there and once I'd call him he said he would meet me. So, when I arrived I called him but could not get hold of him. And it became about 11 or 12 midnight while looking for him. Then I went to a pan… no… a vada pav (a kind of street food – equivalent to burger) stall. Earlier I had enquired with the person there, "can you tell me where this address is? I'm new here." But, since I didn't find him so I came back and sat at the same vada pav stall and then I asked for a vada pav. I didn't know how much one vada pav cost, and I had quite bit of money, still I had only one thinking that the rate would be high. Then the man told me that it was Rs. 3/- per vada pav and then I had another one… then another one. After that, the person with whom I had traveled to Mumbai, I had taken down his number in the train and told him that if I couldn't find the person that I was looking for I'd come and meet him. So, I couldn't find this man called Mohan and I knew this person called Chote and had his given address to me and he had also said that - if you can't find that man (Mohan) you can come over to my place. So, I took his address and left for his place…
Sanjay, the casual migrant worker from a small village in UP talks about his journey to the metropolis. As is the norm in any El dorado the individual (other than the ones who are brought in hordes as contract labours by the agents) fortune seekers arrive with big dreams and very little realistic aid. It is always a matter of luck and chanced encounter with some person or an accidental presence at an important event or a dicey attempt to take advantage of regional and language affinity with somebody influential… there is no system to follow, but there is a well evolved survival instinct. Mostly it does not work. But the example of one rare success story would become a legend and encourage generations of migrants.
The new arrival at the metropolis – afraid, apprehensive yet determined. His apprehension inhibited him to buy food even when he had the money. This also shows that street food in big cities are cheaper than that in smaller places. As the legend goes: people may be homeless and even nameless in a metropolis but they are rarely hungry at the end of the day. The disdainful surplus of a metropolis can feed many more poor than the scarce resources of the fringe land. The disbalance in distribution of resources results in the myth that nobody starves in a city and invokes migration.
city of opportunity
Then after returning, the man at the vada pav stall gave the bus number and told me to go to Andheri first and then get down at Malad and meet the person you need to see in Malad. So, then I went to Andheri and then I came to Malad and then I came to Appapada… Kurar village and from there to Appapada. Then in Appapada too I couldn't find him amongst the large settlements. Then I dialed the number but the man had stepped out and I didn't meet him. I was then standing next to a pan shop; there were some local toughies there. Now how would address them so I said, "Mate, there this carpenter, could you tell me where he lives?" And I thought they'd be angry with me… and at the time this chewing tobacco called Sikander was extremely popular and even though I didn't normally consume tobacco I bought some and kept it. Then I asked them if they knew where this carpenter lived and if they could help with the address… at cluster 5. So they told me and escorted me to that place. I reached there and was offered some water. They asked what brought me to Malad. So I said, "Aunty, I couldn't meet the person I had come here to meet. Could you give me Chote's address?" She said Chote wasn't home and wouldn't come until the evening. "until then," she said, "Why don't you stay here?" I thought ok. Then she said," spend the night here and then we will take you to his place." So then I came to Chote's place, Appapada...
This is an account of a fresh migrant inching forward to a metropolitan existence through an intense roller coaster ride of initiation. Making acquaintances who would help him navigating the labyrinth of the city; impersonating city lads by picking up suggestive postures to counter hostility and fast learning the survival skills.
… so I came to Appapada and told him that I couldn't find the person's (Mohan's) address and hence came to his place and asked if he could help me out for a month or two. He said – "no problem… I can help you for a month or two" and during that time…when I began working… I said, "Look, I can work. I have skills of a mechanic and an operator." So, he said that he was tailoring and how could help me find a job .He could find me a tailoring job but I said I didn't know any tailoring but yes I if there were any mechanic or operating jobs I would find those and I went to Borivali and then Chandivalli but I didn't find any work at Chandivalli. I found some work in one place at Borivalli, at certain Khan Saheb's. At that time, it had been quite a while and then I began working there
Close shot of Sanjay as he gives precise account of his journey into the labour market of Mumbai. Slowly the dust settles down. Another poor man helps with temporary shelter, he works in extreme low wages and as non-skilled labour and then finally gets a job that he desired. Then starts another nightmare!
Close shot of Sanjay Bharti, the epitome of unorganized labour in contemporary urban milieu. Slowly sailing through the obstacles and gaining some stability in the socalled city of plenty. The scorching noon sun makes him blink.
MD: What work did you used to do there?
MD: What did you operate?
Sanjay: I'd operate a machine.
MD: What kind of machine?
Sanjay: Operating as in machines that are used to dig the land.
MD: So what was that experience like?
Sanjay: So, when I came there's a paper company here right? I worked there for 6 months. There's a garage right in front of the paper company called Munna. Worked there too but he was paying less. Now I couldn't find work elsewhere. So I worked at Munna's, at the garage and then I got a job at brick factory. It was wood work… for carts. I couldn't find any operating work and I wanted either that or some mechanics related work. I worked there and then at Gokuldam and couldn't find anything better. Then finally I go to that place… after wasting and year or two… I got an operating job and started doing that.
From this angle the shot looks surreal – almost peaceful – Broken down blue truck with its empty eye sockets, the tin boundary of the workshop with a watch tower and the brown soil of the diminishing hill in the background . Puddle of water on the ground creates a sort of domestic illusion. While in reality the space is meant to facilitate razing, demolishing, and homogenising. Sanjay smiles even while uttering the most difficult words. The sharp contradictions in the scene and in Sanjay's life becomes one. The work ethics of the city has taught him to follow the order at any cost. The working class in 21st century is squarely poised against each other. Workers like Sanjay can only survive by driving bulldozers on his kith and kin – both literary and metaphorically. Yet no Greek tragedy is written on him!
MD: So what kind of work did you do at Khan Saheb's place?
Sanjay: As in, if you've received a tender for something like digging earth or cleaning a pond… so depending on the kind of tender they'd receive. So then in 1999-2000 they received a tender to demolish shanties.
MD: So, how did it feel to demolish people's homes?
Sanjay: See…. that was my job. Whether or not someone else's house was demolished, my own house was demolished too. So if my own house was also demolished so how do you think I would've felt?
MD: How did that happen?
Sanjay: Since mine was also destroyed how would I feel?
MD: How: tell us…
Sanjay: It was like a jolt to the heart, demolishing other people's homes.
MD: Where were those houses?
Sanjay: those house… here only… You know Appapada, just there.
MD: So the day you realized that you would have to go there for demolition how did you feel?
Sanjay: How did I feel! I felt a keen sense of fear. I'm a poor man, if someone's house is torn down, how would it feel! That's why... at that time, I too had had two rooms built that were torn down; my uncle's house was torn down. The person I used to stay with, his was torn down.
MD: So… what did… you do?
Sanjay: What would I do… I tore them down. After tearing them down, there was a glass in front of the machine - they broke it and a stone hit my chest… a large stone.
MD: Who hit you?
Sanjay: The public hit me.
fear of god
kith & kin
A wide shot. In the background a large crane lifts soil from the hillock and store them in a truck. The hill is being razed to make constructions and the soil is being transported to facilitate other construction sites – maybe to fill up the sea. Soil-ful of trucks run to and fro. The topography of the city changes by the minutes as Sanjay declares his failure to live by the terms of the city.
MD: The public knew you as well.
Sanjay: No, I was an outsider, nothing like that happened in our own area but when we went to another place then - yes we were beaten. In my area, they know. I told them try and see here my own rooms are being demolished. I can try and make them understand.
MD: So, why did you leave that job?
Sanjay: I left that job because there isn't much respect in operating nor do you get paid enough. I made the shift to mechanics because the pay is better and there is more respect.
Mukul: When was this?
Mukul: What do you do these days?
Sanjay: These days I work as a mechanic.
Mukul: Where? What do you exactly do?
Sanjay: work in 2000 Park Lane… as mechanic.
Mukul: Where is it?
Sanjay: It's here.
MD: Alright tell us, you probably have relatives, or a brother or fellow villagers, would you advice them to come to Mumbai?
Sanjay: See I don't think Mumbai is for people such as myself, it's for the rich.
MD: So, do you think you did the right thing?
Sanjay: As it is, I'm going to leave Mumbai, I might leave it any time.
MD: Why is that?
Sanjay: That's because I don't like it here. In my native place (he says country), earning a little less… but I would like to live peacefully with my family.
MD: That can't be achieved in Mumbai?
Sanjay: No, it can't because Rs. 5,000 - 7,000 is nothing in Mumbai.
MD: So, is there work available back in the village?
Sanjay: If I even get Rs. 2,000 in the village then I think its good enough, I think.
kith & kin
MD: So, if your younger brother or sister…
Sanjay: Yes, my brother is there as well. He's working at the same place that I do and I told him that if you become an operator or driver I can get you some work back at the village. But now we're not going to stay in Mumbai. I want to take him home as well.
MD: So, you don't like Mumbai?
Sanjay: I don't like Mumbai at all.
MD: What about all the caste hassles that villages are full of?
Sanjay: What about that - it's up to each one's perspective because caste is something that is man made, it isn't created by God. God has only created the human form.
MD: But villages are really caste-ridden!
Sanjay: They are, but that has nothing to do with me.
Mukul: Is there no harassment in the village?
Sanjay: Why would there by any harassment? There's no reason for it.
MD: Ok, so no one harasses anybody?
Sanjay: No, the thing is these days everyone's more educated. Everywhere! Earlier, they were ignorant, lacked education. These days, whether it's the rich man or the poor man everyone takes up education, each according to his capacity.
MD: So, it's not difficult to go back and stay in the village?
Mukul: So, who all are there?
Sanjay: Right now my father is there and my mother, my wife and children.
MD: So, it seems like it was a mistake leaving home?
Sanjay: Yes, I made a mistake.
MD: You didn't like it here in Mumbai?
MD: So, why did you come here?
Sanjay: I had come here to see what Mumbai is like. There is a desire, you know, to see Dubai, Saudi, America, Africa and I thought I could only get as far as Mumbai.
MD: Now when you go back to your village and people will ask you, what is Mumbai like, what will you say?
Sanjay: I'll tell them look brother; first of all you don't get jobs in Mumbai, besides there are no means of living and these days there aren't even any shanties available - so where will you stay once you get there? Once I get a reply to that, I'll tell them to either go or stay.
Sanjay formulates the caution for the next generation of migrants. No place to live, not even shanties – no job security, yet a burning need for more money. Metropolitan El-dorado in the post-industrial era has become even more difficult to negotiate for the working class. Casual and vagrant status of the unorganized labours has made them acutely vulnerable and open to bonded slavery. Sanjay prefers the state of semi-industrialisation of his native place and ready to reverse his journey. Whether or not he will be able practically to do so is another matter. In the landscape of desire Mumbai becomes part of the other dream lands such as Dubai, Saudi Arabia and America. It is not the domicile status but the economic status that decides who is a valid citizen and who is not.
MD: But it is also fun… isn't it?
Sanjay: It is fun… but it's fun for people with money, the one who has a government job. How much does someone in private sector job get? At the most, Rs. 2000/- or even Rs.1500.
The much valorised life style of the big city – it makes no sense to somebody like Sanjay. Inspite of being a skilled labour he earns less than the stipulated minimum wages. Life style is an alien concept for him.
MD: SO when you demolished the 2 room dwelling that you had when you were working at Khan Sahib's, what did you have in that house?
Sanjay: What kind of things? There were lots of things, at that time people were hopeful that it wouldn't be demolished, so these days everyone has at least a television set, all sorts of things, gas – these days people can afford these small things to an extent.
MD: But don't you take the belongings out before tearing down (houses) or do you demolish those as well?
Sanjay: Look, if you don't get the opportunity to take them out, then it would be destroyed as well, won't it be? Say, if you've been told to vacate your room… still… and I have order from above, then what can I do? I'm helpless (in such circumstances).
MD: So you'd demolish people TV and other belongings as well?
Sanjay: Yes, what can I do? I have to. I'm doing a job, if you tell me – 'displace this'… I will have to obey that or leave my job…
MD: So you had to demolish these things, people's television sets, gas, clothes and all kinds of things.
Sanjay: Yes, all of those…
MD: How did you feel then? You were much younger.
Sanjay: But I have a lot of experience. I learnt to work from a very early age so I can do anything.
MD: But did you think at nights after work, O my! What kind of work am I doing!
Sanjay: O my! What kind of work am I doing! I worked then for another 2 days and left. I even told that other Madam that I worked for two days and I didn't like the job so I quit. And I become a mechanic.
Mukul: You worked there for only 2 more days?
Sanjay: Yes, because if I didn't like it what was the point? You don't want to cause any harm
to another person... I don't know, couldn't control it…
Mukul: So in the village, what would you do? Do you do farming or something else?
Sanjay: I have never done any farming. But now even we have machines, cars so I can do that… Mechanics, or operating or even driving. I can also drive.
The irony of consumers' goods at the time of globalization. The working class can afford to buy consumers' items – infact seduced in buying them - yet they are not allowed to have a home to store the goods. Sanjay's conscience did not let him be part of this destructive design anymore. Will he be able to reverse the dominant trend and start again at the village?
MD: Sanjay, if someone were to come to you and offer you twice your current pay as a mechanic but ask you to demolish houses again…
Sanjay (cut her short): No, I wouldn't do it.
MD: But one needs money as well.
Sanjay: Yes, one does need money but I don't want to harm anyone. And how much/what can I gain by doing so and can I avail of those benefits after I'm dead? There's nothing to be had by causing distress to someone.
MD: Yes.. ok… You're right.
Mukul: These days there a lot of construction work in Bombay, isn't it?
Sanjay: Bombay has limited space so yes. Tear down one structure to build another one. Sell it ..(inaudible)
Mukul: Everywhere you look there are these cranes, machines…
Sanjay: Yes, because you need these as well… where is the space? There's no space.
MD: But we all also come/migrate here? People keep migrating to Mumbai. We're all from outside.
Mukul: You're from UP, I'm from UP as well. Madam's from Bengal.
MD: So, maybe we shouldn't come here.
Sanjay: No, you're big people you can come here but Mumbai isn't for people like us.
The machines of destruction-construction busily run around on the hillock behind Sanjay. In the long shot they look like some crawling insects. For the first time Sanjay cut the interviewer short to empathetically state that he would not work again for a demolishing agency, whatever may the incentive be. In the background the crane continues to shift the earth…
Sanjay contextualizes the privatization of public space in the city as "Because here for everything… even to walk you need to have money".
MD: But here people earn enough for their livelihood.
Sanjay: Yes, you do get enough to eat but you still need money for it. Money is extremely necessary.
MD: But you do not get money in the villages either.
Sanjay: Yes, but back in the village one can feed oneself and live but in Mumbai you can't live. Because here for everything… even to walk you need to have money.
MD: Ok. Ok Sanjay, thank you very much.
Mukul: Thank you.
Shots of construction – brown dry soil, slate colour boulders and cranes and trucks on the hillock -busy removing, shifting, re-configuring the earth. The people like Sanjay are needed to run these machines. Yet our Sanjay chooses to put in a note of descent.
note of descent