I Have Not Seen My Mother – SK Garg
Year 1976, on 1st Jan, I had moved out of my native place for a job in Vadodra to a huge construction site. Fresh from engineering college, filled with idealism of all kind to do something for society and the country, I started closely working for supervision of construction works of all kind going around for a big petrochemical project. Workers from all parts of India had come to earn their livelihood. It was interesting to see about 18,000 souls struggling with primitive machines and tools building India’s first petrochemical project where Indian Government had decided to undertake all detailed design engineering, construction with Indian workforce.
I was assigned by my boss to build a 35m high working platform structure around a reactor. The job was assigned to a subcontractor named Babu, by the main contractor. I started learning my first lessons in steel while watching labor doing many activities. One young boy, Guddu, with strong build would do grinding of steel parts very efficiently. I started appreciating his work and one day asked him about his native place, his family and we became friendly.
One day I found him very excited and cheerful. He told that his mother has come from Madras to Kandla, a place 400 km from his worksite where his father was working as a helper at port. He was going to meet her this week end.
But then, he turned serious and told me that he has never met his mother. He was 4 years old when he came with his father to Gujrat. His father will go to his native place on every Diwali but he was unable to afford a railway ticket for his son. Every year the mother will insist to bring Guddu with him on next Diwali, but father would not have sufficient money to buy a ticket for his son.
This year, his mother had come to see her son after 14 years. I had been away from home for just 14 weeks and I was feeling home sick. Still there were another 26 weeks by the time, I will go home on Raksha Bandhan.
Why law did not compel the contractor to provide for a clean home for his father, some basic insurance and medical and a free ticket for journey home. Why even Government contracts do not bind the contractor to provide even basic amenities to workers.
After a week, I found Guddu at site. He was loitering around and not working and looked pale and sad. I was surprised to see him in this state. I asked him, what has happened. He explained that main contractor did not get his monthly payment and did not pay the sub-contractor. He told his sub-contractor that he wants his final payment as he was ready to lose his job but wanted to have a glimpse of his mother. But sub-contractor did not have sufficient money. His labor was living on 1 meal a day as the big bosses in sarkari system were still pondering over the monthly payment.
Glow had gone out of the young eyes. I was sad to see him. I inquired when he will travel to Kandla to meet his mother. He sobbed and said now there is no need as his mother has travelled back to village near Madras. Oh my God, why it happened to him. Why he did not request me for the small money. Why all social benefits and safety requirements are flouted in India.
The incident brought me face to face with poverty in India. I never remembered my home after then. It was important to learn and get some money and make ourselves self-dependent. Soon I could save a lot of money which made me contribute 4% of that for education of under privileged children. I owe Guddu a lot for teaching some real lessons in life as everything is not taught in schools.