Research with laborers and construction workers

Now Adam wanted to talk with some labors who work at construction sites. He wanted to talk with different kind of labors like the one who work independently, the one work for some agency, the one who work under some contractor or the one who work for the government… I had seen a construction going on in my neighborhood and I thought it would be a good idea to talk with some labors there so I took Adam there and talked with two labors. Adam asked them several questions but something that was most interesting for me was the training for labors.

Adam asked them if they knew of some place where training is provided to labors or skilled labors in Benares and the labors said that there was a government training center for labors in Chunar. Adam asked them if they went there to learn and both of the labors said no. Adam asked would they like to go there and again both of them said no. Adam asked why people don’t go these training centers and they said since they are poor they can would not like to stay at some place and make nothing. It is better for them to work and learn so that they can make some money while learning.

Both of the labors said that all the labors, almost 99.9%, start working at a construction site where they carry the bricks or just help the skilled labors and someday they also become a skilled labor. None of the labors were happy with the money they were making. They said that labors make only Rs. 120 ($2.5) and skilled labors make only Rs. 200 ($4) per day which sounds terrible to me. India is also becoming an expensive place to live and I don’t understand how these people survive. �Sometimes when they are working under some contractor, they get less paid because contractor also gets a cut.

They said that most of the labors in Benares are Biharis or they come from nearby villages. Adam asked them what if they are injured while working, who pays for their medical bills? And they said that most of the time contractors make some pressure on the land owner and if the land owner agrees to pay, then they pay otherwise contractor takes care of it but usually they have to face trouble getting anything extra from the contractor or the land owner both. Something else that was very interesting to me was when they talked about why women are not skilled labors in India.

They said that skilled labor’s work is kind of risky sometimes because when they work on the outer walls, they have to climb up on the walls and there is only bamboos to support them. I think Indian women are more involved in risky activities than Indian men because it is women who cook on the kerosene�oil stove, I often hear about LPG cylinder blast in the kitchen and mostly women look after our kitchen, marrying an unknown person also seems risky to me… Women are often forcibly married to someone chosen by their parents and later they are harassed for dowry and in a lot of cases they are killed. I think these things are more riskier than climbing up on the wall.

Adam is looking for some contractors to talk with. I know few contractors in my are and I would ask them to talk with Adam. Adam was looking for a recommendation letter from VDA so that his grant could be easily passed by his university. We went to the VDA office and talked with a officer there and he asked us to meet with the Chairman of VDA. We met him next day and talked about Adam’s research. He said that VDA doesn’t do much construction because it doesn’t have much money. But he agreed to give a recommendation letter to Adam. He asked Adam to write the kind of letter he was supposed to give to Adam. Adam wrote the letter and the chairman asked his typist to type the same.

I don’t know what had happened but his typist took like more than an hour to type only one page. Finally we got the letter which was very valuable document for Adam’s research. VDA promised Adam to provide any kind of help Adam would like to have in the future, which sounded very strange to me because we Indians never hope for any kind of help from our government. Well, whatever, we got what we needed and that was the most important thing.

Research on secular philosophers and cremationists

Adam, PhD candidate, University of Chicago, came back to Benaers and stayed at my place again. This year he wanted to do some basic research about his upcoming research in India next year. He wanted to study Hindi as well but for that he had decided to go to Masoorie. Adam was interested in two subjects- labors at construction sites or Doams (the people who work at cremation place). Adam has come this year with his fiance, Megan, who is doing a research for her school, Smith college, Boston, about secular Indian philosophers. She just wants to collect some data about them.

She wants to visit BHU and see if they have any books available written by any secular Indian philosophers who existed in between 1850-1940. Megan said that she went to University of Maisoore also but could not get anything because there was no one to help her at the university. She went there several times but could not get any help and then she decided to leave Maisoore and came to Benares. She wanted to visit the BHU library and wanted to talk with some professors at philosophy department. I took help of my one friend who studies at BHU and he took us the university.

We went to the International Students Center first where we met with the officer who asked us to meet the head of the central library. We went to the central library and met with the head. Adam and Megan both were shocked to see the library of BHU. They said that BHU’s library was a way better than the library of University of Masoorie. They said that people were also very nice and helping at BHU. The asked Megan to write them a letter asking for permission to visit the library and after doing it, we were allowed to look at the books. Megan, Adam, my friend Ravi and I visited the library with few staffs of the library who were showing us around.

Megan found few books that were good for her research and wanted to get it xeroxed but actually it was impossible to xerox those books because those books were too old and pages were in terrible condition. So finally Megan had to write another letter asking them to provide digital format of the book. They asked us to come after 5 days and collect the book in digital format. After the library we went to the philosophy department and met a professor. He was crazy. He was more interested in showing his own research to Megan. He did not want to hear what Megan was doing.

He started showing the books he had written and started talking about himself and just did not want to stop or let Megan ask something about her research. Finally after hearing him for an hour, he asked what Megan needed. Megan told him about her research and he asked Megan to come next day so that he could research the philosophy department library but he had said that the library had a few books that would be good for her research. �After meeting him we came back to home and Megan said that it was a successful day for her research.

The work at BHU today motivated her to keep her research going on otherwise she had given-up after visiting University of Maisoore. I am happy for Megan’s research. Adam wanted to talk with a doam so I took him to Harishchandra Ghat and introduced him to a guy whom I had met while working with CBC’s documentary Myths and Might. We met at the Harishchandra Ghat and he took us to the electric burner where he works. I had never been to a electric burner but this time the electric burner was the place to interview.

We talked for few hours and Adam and Megan asked him several different kinds of questions about his personal life, social status, discrimination… Adam wanted to gift something to him so I asked the Doam where was the nearest sweet shop and the Doam asked us why we wanted to go to a sweet shop and I told him that Adam wanted to gift him some sweets. After hearing this the Doam said that Doams are not the kind of people who love sweets, they love alcohol. So we bought him a bottle of whiskey.

Kite festival in Varanasi

A boy busy with his kite

A boy busy with his kite

It was kite festival on the 14th and 15th which I like a lot. I used to fly kites for at least four-five months a year but stopped doing it about six-seven years ago. Now I fly kites only on this festival. This festival is called Khichadi. Khichadi is a dish also and everybody cooks Khichadi for this festival. It has a religious importance to donate something on this festival day and everybody makes some donation. I have been donating my blood on this day for the past ten years but I could not do it this year.

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Kites everywhere

I went to the hospital but they did not take my blood because I was suffering from cold and cough. I will go after a week again and make the blood donation. I flew few kites but not as much as I was expecting. I had bought about fifty kites but I few only five. My friends flew other ones. This festival more kind of family festival. People come on the roof, they have loud music, Khichdi and kites for the whole day. The number of kite flyers have decreased a lot now. The whole sky used to be stuffed with the kites but now its not like that.

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Sky full of kites

A lot of parents do not want their kids to fly kites because they relate kite flying with bad-kids. They love taking their kids to McDonalds and get them all the garbage food with Coca-Cola but kite flying is not good for them. I think it is okay. It is thousand times better than sitting in front of a TV and watching all the politics. There is a bad thing also about this festival that few kids fall off the roof. Sometimes they die also. I think every year almost 15-20 kids get injured and maybe one or two die. But its fun to fly kites.

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This guy had a big music system on roof

The other danger thing about kite flying is new and done by Chinese. Now we have Chinese strings which has a lot of iron in it. Its obvious to get a little cut on fingers while flying kites but if there is Chinese string then one can get tetanus if not takes any injection. The other dangerous thing about Chinese strings is that it can give you a electrical shock if your strings touch any electrical wire. And off course all of our electricity wires are open in Varanasi. Indian string has only glass powder and is more safe than Chinese one but a lot of people prefer Chinese one because it is stronger than Indian one, its sad.

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Kites & Kites & Kites...

I ask my foreign friends about their kites in their country and it sounds like their kite flying is boring. Once I asked about kites to Adam, my friend in Chicago, and he was proud to say that he can turn the kites to different sides, even spin them around. He said that they he has some stuff from which he can add more than one string to kite if he wants to spin them around or turn them towards different sides. I laughed when I heard this because we also do the same thing but with only one string. I showed him our kites he was wondering how is it possible to spin a kite around with only one string.

I asked him if they cut others’ kites or not and he said “NO”. I think it will be no fun if you can not cut other kites down. He watched our kites and was shocked to see us spinning kites around with one string and cutting other kites down. You have to have some techniques to cut other kites down. We have an international kite festival this year in Gujarat where a lot of people from different countries will come to participate. But no need to say that either India, China or Pakistan wins the competition.

Chicago guest learns Hindi

An anthropology student named Adam Sergant from University of Chicago came to my guest house for a month. He also wanted to learn Hindi with Bhasha Bharti like Lane and Dave. Adam wanted to learn Hindi with Bhasha Bharti for his whole stay, three months, but Bhasha Bharti didn’t have that much time so he decided to learn in Varanasi for a month then move to Masoori for another two months.

He had already learned Hindi with Virendra Singh at Wisconsin University so his Hindi was so so. I asked him about why he was not learning with Virendra Singh in Varanasi so he said that Virendra Singh is in the US every year during summer time to teach students at Wisconsin University. He comes India only in winter with the same students he teaches at University in Madison. Adam used to go Bhasha Bharti for 6 hours a day.

His classes timings were not convenient for him, 8 to 11 morning and 4 to 7 in the evening. He went there for almost 15 days and decided to leave early because he had to do some research regarding his future work in India. He was doing PhD from University of Chicago and was interested in labors at construction sites.

Adam had great time in Varanasi learning Hindi with Bhasha Bharti. He said that teachers were not best but not bad either. Adam had few complaints about the dirt in classroom. He said that his chair was right under the fan and the dust would always fall at him from the fan. His overall experience with Bhasha Bharti was good, he was happy with them.

He left to Delhi to watch construction sites for his future project. He gave contact of my brother in Delhi so that he could hear something from a local person. After spending 2 days and eating Delhi food, Adam got sick. He was admitted in hospital for 3 days and got 4 drips. I dont understand why Delhi’s food is so bad. Even I had some problem when I ate in Delhi last time I was there.

Some how Adam reached Masoori to learn Hindi with a school. He had arranged his accommodation through his school so he was quiet sure that he will get a place to stay for two months. But when he reached at the place he was supposed to stay, he found that door was locked. He contacted the house owner and owner said that they have shifted to Dehradoon for next one month and would not be able to host him.

Again Adam contacted me look for housing in Masoori. I had a friend Dehradoon so I contacted him to look for some nice place in Masoori. It took three days to him to find a home but Adam had already found a place to stay. Adam cancelled his Hindi classes and left Masoori early because of some family problem.