At a distant countryside at Kalagachia, around three kilometers interior from Diamond Harbour road at Thakurpukur bazaar, when the village folks are sheltered inside their homes, on a drizzling July morning, Bashir Ali Sheikh is busy digging tons of soil and mud. He is working at a gentleman’s house to dig out a well assisted by his team of laborers.
Drawing out large pools of mud from the digged soil, wiping off his hands in the gamchha tied round his waist, Bashir says, “I have been working here since morning. Though its raining we would not let that affect our work since I’ve given my word to them.”
An eighth grade dropout, Bashir was bound to join his father’s profession around seven years back to support his family financially.
“None of my siblings could complete our education due to lack of money. I am the only child who had the privilege to continue education till eighth grade. My brothers and sisters are not even that educated.”
Bashir started assisting his father in the well digging job while his brother and sister started doing zari work at home itself. These are the only sources of income for the entire family which includes of his parents, his wife and two sons, his brother and a sister.
“My father has been in this profession since the last forty five years. It’s our family tradition, it was my grandfather Rustam Ali Sheikh who started the tradition and the legacy has come down to me. Though I am continuing this work yet I do not want my sons to do this. I want them to study and be educated. My wife Zenatun bibi,is a matriculate and she holds daily tuitions and teaches the primary school children the income from there is exclusively invested in my son’s education.”
At a time, when technology has well placed itself into the well digging scenario, one may question if that has lessened the well digger’s demand. But a timid and hesitant Bashir remains undeterred by this. As per him, there are still certain works related to well digging which a machine can’t do, came the prompt reply. After all a machine or its accessories cannot penetrate into every nook and corner under the ground.
Its quite true well digging demands quite a good amount of manual labor and hardship. Its quite a risk to the digger’s life also as sometimes fatal accidents take place. Sometimes while digging the ground soil, the surrounding area mud slides across the unfitted well walls which causes death of the person working inside the well. Moreover work gets completely stopped in monsoons and it’s like a starvation period for these people.
As Bashir says “Often I’ve to mortgage some property or asset of mine. If there’s no work for around two months how shall we earn and how shall we feed the family? It’s impossible to work during such heavy downpour.”
But for the rest of the year we do get work. Sometimes on contract basis, may be for a week or a month and sometimes on a daily basis.
Bashir also keeps in account of his counterparts at other places. “I know what happened at Liluah and I am proud the way those three well diggers acted. As I already said, not all job can be done by machines. The incident is a proof regarding how human labor is still important in such cases.”
Though he never had a call to rescue any distressed soul fallen in to the well, he did have to rescue the animals who quite often fall in to deep bore wells at his locality. “It’s a common issue. I frequently have a call from my neighbors or friends asking me to rescue their cow or goat that had fallen there.”
“We earn up to Rs 200-300 a day. Sometimes if luck permits, I earn up to even 450-500. But that is not enough to feed the entire family. As a subsidiary, my younger brother does zari work at home.
In view of the recent incidents when the nation has suddenly turned its eyes on these folks and the Government is actually making plans to hire them in the disaster management services, hardly makes any differences to Bashir.
On being asked came the prompt reply, “Is it so? We don’t have any idea regarding all this. I stay at a remote area far from the city at a village called Choukijati. It is quite far away from the city, on the outskirts of Kolkata nearby Diamond Harbour. We even do not have any idea regarding the schemes, the rehabilitation programmes for the BPL families.”
Though Bashir knows his family falls under the BPL category, they still do not have a BPL card to avail the provisions provided for he feels that there are people who earn less than him and they are in more need of that than his family.
I at least earn around 200-300 rupees a day. But there are people who just manage to earn just Rs 50. I feel they need help more than me. We do not even get any help from our village panchayat. But that does not bother us as I can always take care of my family.
Bashir is least bothered of the happenings around him, whether its regarding the government’s decision to include well diggers in Disaster Management services or whether it’s the advent of advanced technology. He even feels that ten years down the line, their demand in the society shall increase since with increasing people demand for homes and amenities shall increase.
As he finally says that people shall never stop living in homes and whatever the matter is wells will always be required for some purpose or the other. He is happy the way life is moving for him with a distant vision to enhance his business though he knows that requires large amount of monetary investment. “I do want to expand this business but it needs large investment and I really do not have any idea as to how to apply for loans at banks. Hence I have to be content with what I am doing.”
Bashir’s father plans to continue this work for the next five years and Bashir says he would work till the day his health persists. “I do not want my sons to follow in my lines hence I have to earn and save more for their future.”
The twinkle in his eyes speaks high of his dreams regarding his sons who are yet to know of the mundane world. Though timid in expressions yet determined in voice and work, Bashir and many more like him shall always strive to make life a better place more for others than for themselves.