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Can't work, have family
Geetanjali Krishna
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August 11, 2007
"So many migrants...," sighed Devinder Singh, the garrulous electrician, "they come to Delhi searching for a better life, better job -- but the sorts of attitudes many of them have towards work, it would be nothing short of a miracle if they get very far!" The old Sardar was unscrewing the plug in an overwrought manner, and I could tell he was itching to tell me a story. "Did you have any particular person in mind?" I asked. He stopped mangling the plug and said, "I don't know why I'm so irritated with Prakashu -- after all, as he's pointed out so often, he did nothing unusual. His village brothers do it all the time!"

Two years ago, Sardarji hired Prakashu as his shop assistant (he has a small shop selling electrical goods over which the threat of sealing has been hanging like the veritable sword of Damocles for the last two years).

The boy was presentable, bright and for a migrant, learnt the ropes surprisingly quickly. He rented a tiny room with seven men from and around his village. Some of them had night jobs, so fortunately they could all take turns sleeping.

One morning, he found Sardarji grappling with a broken tap. "Let me repair it," he offered. Sardarji watched him curiously, for Prakashu's expertise with repairing taps spoke of some prior training. It turned out Prakashu had worked in Delhi earlier, when his maternal uncle's nephew trained him in plumbing. Seeing how efficiently Prakashu set his tap right, Sardarji reckoned he must have been good at his job. "Why did you switch your line?" he asked.

"My father asked me to come back to help with the harvest, and so I went back to the village for eight months," he replied. Sardarji was surprised. "It doesn't take eight months to harvest a crop," he commented dryly, "perhaps if you hadn't gone, you'd probably have had your own plumbing business today!" Prakashu replied that Sardarji won't understand because he was a businessman: "for people like me, family's everything!" he said huffily.

Anyway, Prakashu soon made himself indispensable to Sardarji. He proved as adept at mending electrical appliances as he was in repairing leaking taps. "That boy will go far," Sardarji prophesied to his wife. But he didn't realise that Prakashu felt he had already come very far, far from home at least.

His sister was to be married, he said soon after, and he had to go. "I don't know when I'll be able to return�maybe in two months, but who knows?" he said before leaving. Sardarji was livid at his unprofessional behaviour and hired someone else. After seven months, a scrawny and tanned Prakashu returned to ask whether Sardarji had any work for him.

"I sent him off with a stern lecture on developing a more professional attitude to work," said Sardarji sadly. For Sardarji was still fond of him, and believed that he could do much better for himself, if only he didn't take such long sabbaticals.

"So where is Prakashu now?" I asked. He smiled ruefully: "he got a job as a mechanic in a motor garage owned by his cousin's brother-in-law or some such distant relative. Being one of those people who're just generally good at tinkering with things, I'd imagine he did well there too."

Noticing his use of the past tense, I raised my eyebrows questioningly. He nodded in assent. "He returned to the village last month because his family wanted him to get married. If only he accorded as much importance to his work as he did to his family in the village, he'd go so far..."

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