August 03, 2005

9 to 5

All over this enormous space, in the nallahs that run through it and on the uneven stretches that rise above them, on the broad swathes of disgusting garbage and the patches of stinking slush, and also on the merely rubble-strewn areas -- on all of this, there are hordes at work, frenetic activity, much hammering and erecting and measuring. Poles everywhere, people everywhere, kids running about, dogs rooting through rotting discarded food, people everywhere, people everywhere.

Yet in this "corner" -- to the extent that a spot in a great open area can be called a corner -- Abdul and his family and a couple of friends sit, and they are conspicuous because they are idle. At least, they are conspicuous to me.

Why, I ask. When everyone else here is building away, why are you doing nothing? "Because they didn't tear down my house," says Abdul.

That's the thing, you see. Last January, the Municipal authorities pulled down thousands of huts here -- about 10,000, some people tell me. This was a densely-packed slum before; it is now a great big empty space. Or it was a great big empty space. As of two days ago, finally driven to action by the torrent from the sky last week, the people who used to live here have returned. They are erecting new shacks, most of them at the very spots their demolished homes once occupied.

Yet Abdul's house wasn't touched. In fact, at this end of the space, there's a substantial and fully-functioning slum pocket -- STD booths, two-room school, shops, everything. Abdul lives in there. None of the shacks there was touched, last January.

But why not? He shrugs. He says, "Well, it was 5 o-clock. The men had to go home."

I must look puzzled, because his wife smiles suddenly and explains. The demolition team had been demolishing for four days straight. Come 5 pm on the fourth evening, they were officially off duty. That's when they stopped demolishing.

And that's how it's been since, here in Mandala off the busy Eastern Highway in Mankhurd. Abdul's house, and this whole section of a huge slum area, remain intact because a January day at the office ended.

2 comments:

Suhail said...

chilling!! Don't know how Abdul feels about it. or the one who stayed in the immediate neighbouring house feels.

Exemplifies the phrase, "saved by a hair's breadth'.

k said...

These sarkari babus work 9 to 5 only yaar - Abdul was saved.

When sarkari babus (say like J B D'Souza) retire and take up private house demolishing/building practice under patronage of ex-MPs (say Mrinal Gore), they'll work round the clock. Don't expect dorks in media to cover that angle.