Tuesday, June 17, 2008


I slowly walked towards the machine-embroidery workshop, close to the hand-embroidery unit. The lane was uneven, the heat seemed more intense. I began to feel disoriented. I called the owner of the unit on his mobile, thinking I would stay in the workshop till it became cooler.

I went down a staircase into the basement of a three-storey building. The workshop is more a cell than a room, humid and claustrophobic despite warped exhaust fans whirring at full speed near street-level vents. Their grimy blades churn the sweltering air into the ongoing stream of call-in chatter, chirpy advertisements and blockbuster Bollywood numbers playing on an FM radio.

But all this is drowned in the incredible roar of the three converted pump motors that turn the aged makeshift machines at which the workers sit hunched, eyes glued to the designs miraculously forming on the fabric, hands flying between cloth, thread, needle, bobbin.

Not one of the three young men looked up for even a second as I came in. They work here for 12 to 14 hours each day. Juddering and snarling like a pneumatic drill in the suffocating little room, the brutal reverberation muscles incessantly through the fragile canals of their ears.

How long does it take for such thunder to finally congeal into a deafening void within the skull?

My nerves seethed as I shouted my questions to the young owner of the workshop, standing by an ironing platform in a tiny inner compartment piled high with cloth. He said had migrated to Delhi five years ago from Bihar. The workers in his unit are also from Bihar.

The unit has survived thus far, but the production level is actually going down. Sometimes he is short of work, and then short of workers as his men leave. But everyone who trudges with hope, will and grit through the labyrinth of Hauz Rani needs a job. The owner of the unit never has a problem finding replacements.