Reminiscences of village T

Reminiscences of village T


Prosperity came to this Notified Backward Area circa 1979 in the form of a ferromanganese factory that overlooked its ancient river and a cluster of newly built huts. The river was a life giver. The water from the river replenished the factory’s cooling towers, the sand from its banks fortified its casting bays and when the sun went down pots of illicit, life-giving(!) brew would rise, duly distilled, from deep holes in the embankments to quench the thirst of tired workmen.

Come morning, they mounted their cycles and made their way to the factory where hundreds of workers were already pushing theirs through the main gate. Whether they came on cycles or on foot or whether they were sober or drunk, their job was to make the furnaces work 24 hours.

This was what the Great Helmsman wanted. It was not easy. The heat hit you in the eyes. Brave workers wearing tattered gloves and worn-out shoes, armed with long handles forked out the molten metal and kept it flowing into the bays. Others worked, perched perilously, on overhead clangers breaking the metal into smaller pieces.

Under the scorching sun women kept the storage yards safe and clean. The labs worked ceaselessly through three   shifts. When the control panels broke down one of the workers would strip down to his underpants to get readings from the furnace pit. The heat was all pervasive- night or day, inside or outside.

Suddenly a rustle of leaves overhead would remind us gently of the flowing river behind and the greenscape beyond. As the breeze intensified and rain fell, we ran for cover but the workmen continued. And so did Balsara, the manager and Yezdi, the foreman.
Balsara was god to the workmen and godfather to Yezdi. He knew all the workmen by their first names and without Balsara the factory could never have been built.

As accountants we realised it was not just the tax incentives that brought the Great Helmsman to Village T. The mines that supplied the ore were near; the steel plants that bought the ferromanganese were nearer. And he enjoyed walking in the rain. He gave the village a railway station and the village gave him peace, respect and fame.

After three days it was time to return. There were no keepsake photographs then --only long goodbyes. One last time, Bhikku and I felt the breeze on our faces, heard the furnaces bellow mildly, as hypnotic greenery took hold of us.

The place was beautiful, the people worked hard; the factory was doing well and why was it a Notified Backward Area we wondered, as we drove past the swaying fields in silence.

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