The Other Side

The sun is shining brightly over the city, the sunlight enters your room from the crack in the window, making you get up from your slumber for the day ahead of you. Why does the sun even rise every day? Adulting is hard, and it seems like the entire world is against you. You’re grateful for the weekend, thinking of the plans for the day. You walk towards your kitchen to start your day with a cup of tea.

Meeta, a 25-year-old tea estate worker, wakes up at the break of dawn, before anybody in the household. She is the first to feel the warmth of the glowing orange sun as she steps out of her low thatched hut. She knows the day ahead is going to be long. She will have to cover up for the days of work she missed because of what they call “the Days of Kamakhya”, the days of menstrual periods. In the back of her mind, she always thought that this physical labour would be a good distraction from the pain of the cramps. Still, she knew it wasn’t right to go because there is no provision for toilets or water for women pluckers in the gardens. Even the meagre Rs. 120 she earned a day, meant a lot to her at this point.

She meanders with her frail body, a pale face that demurely smiles, and the tiny fingers and scarred hands to carry two to three pails of water at one go. Praneet, her husband, will soon leave for the factory while she is going to have to slog through the tea estate under the scorching heat of the sun, carrying Babu, her 3-month-old in her own arms. She wished she could keep him away from the effect of the harmful pesticides and the extreme weather conditions, but at this point, she felt helpless.

You sit with your steaming cup of tea by the window. With the newspaper opened in front of you, you scan through the headlines of the day. It is horrifying — things that are happening around the world. Who would even enable such abuse? And why? Sighing, you step into the shower.

Nagesh, a 17-year-old, rushes to the soap factory after his morning class. Nagesh is rather proud of himself of having managed to attend school and earn bread for his family at the same time. As he rushes through the busy streets of Thane, the constant hustling sound of cars reminds him of his aspiration to become a mechanic like Uncle Somesh. The factory from the school is a rather long distance. With each step, his breathing gets heavier. Today he is feeling a certain dizziness. He has a case of chronic asthma, and his workplace does not help his condition. The constant exposure to volatile chemicals aggravates his respiratory disorder. He reaches for his inhaler but realises he had lost it two days ago. His monthly earning doesn’t allow him to spend money on the seemingly luxurious inhalers. His ears resonate with the sound of his thumping heartbeat. The lights blur in front of him. He faints.

You step out of the steaming hot shower. It truly relaxes your day. You open your cupboard to pick your outfit for the day. It’s going to be a good day today, so you decide to wear your favourite cotton shirt. It makes you look great, hiding all those tiny imperfections you can’t help but notice.

Aadya, a 35-year old woman living in a small village in Bangladesh, makes her way over to the garment factory to work at 10 A.M after handling the household chores. Every step feels like a burden to her frail, exhausted body and her bloodshot eyes clearly indicate her lack of sleep. She had stayed in the factory till 2 A.M the other night, trying to finish the day’s assigned cloth target. She works there as a seamstress, cutting and stitching garments without a day’s rest. Every day, she sees hundreds of women around her, bent over tiny tables in a vast yet constricted room. She consistently feels burdened by the impossibly long working shifts with no breaks in between, the inability to breathe clean air at times and the insults hurled at her by her employers.

But the responsibility of feeding her children and trying to sustain the roof over their heads keeps her from speaking against it, and she silently resigns to her work. Rumours about a worker being beaten only because he demanded better wages haunt her; she shudders to think about what would happen if she uttered even a word. How long could she allow herself, along with several others, to succumb to such a situation?

You notice the foundation laying on the dressing table. Might as well go all out, right? You dab a little on your skin, making sure it doesn’t look a bit too much. It’s getting a little late, and you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. You look good.

Today, Baban a 14-year-old boy spends his time hammering flakes of rock off the mountainside in rural Jharkhand. His sisters carry baskets of rocks to the top of the mine to sort through their contents. They sift through it, separating the glittery fragments (soon to be called mica) from the rock debris.

Once done, these glittery fragments will make their way into our homes in the form blusher, eye shadow, lipstick and foundation. Almost every brand from L’Oréal to Merck use it in their cosmetics.

 

You catch the bus in a hurry and settle in a comfortable seat. You unlock your phone and plug in the earphones. You find the perfect playlist for the ride, check your messages and scroll past your Instagram feed. After you’ve had your fill, you open your favourite shopping site and look through things to buy, your fingers tapping away at the screen.

Li Wei is working in the factories in China that makes the technical industries survive and flourish. He is straining to concentrate while counting every minute until he is allowed to take rest. His head had already started to ache, and he was feeling dizzy. For what felt like hours, he was working continuously, trying to perfect the casing on the phones he would never be able to afford. He fails to understand how he’s expected to work without having received proper training or given adequate equipment. But, he continues, to afford two square meals a day.

He steals a glance at his charred fingers, where the glove had corroded to reveal his bare skin. He tries not to breathe in the dust-filled air and the fumes through the thin mask, which provides minimal protection. He thinks about the many nights he had woken up with his lungs feeling heavy and an intense pain in his chest. The dorm rooms provide no relief, with the overpowering stench of sweat and unwashed clothes of several workers living together.

You get off the bus and walk a little ahead, enjoying the gentle breeze blowing. There’s a store nearby, and a glint of glass catches your eye. Your mother loves bangles, coordinating them with the colour of her sari, you have to buy them for her. The sound of the bangles clinking fills you with the warmth of home. You go inside and ask the shopkeeper to pack the red ones you saw from the window. As he gives it to you, you keep it safely in your bag and return home.

Today, Neha will receive a 200 years old heirloom, that of glass bangle making. Like most children her age in Firozabad, she spends most of her time making bangles, having to give up her childhood to create someone else’s. Little does the wearer know that each bangle has to go through at least 80 hands to become the beautiful piece of jewellery it is. All through her life, Neha has seen tall chimneys giving out smoke into the air. Although machines are used, a lot of the work like melting the bangles to join them using a candle is done by women.

As you walk on the street, you spot a vendor who is selling pink and white flowers. You approach him inquiring about the cost as you think they would look good on your door. As usual, you end up bargaining with him for the price, these vendors always try to increase the rate for an extra profit. These flowers would look beautiful on the dining table.

Ramesh sighed. This person had bargained for another measly 10 rupees. They drive around in fancy cars, live in big bungalows and send their kids to most prestigious of schools. And yet, they bargain. Pretty sure they wouldn’t even notice a missing ten rupees. Little do they know that these ten rupees he lost to every customer from his profits. Of the six hundred rupees he made daily, he had to send most of it back home. Little Lakshmi just started going to the fifth grade; she and her mother will need an extra bit this month to make it by. The summer heat is unbearable and will drive expenses up.

You get back home. It has been a good day, and you settle into your covers for a good night’s sleep. Little did you know, your day was filled with products that were made with suffering. Our ignorance is our bliss — creating a cocoon free of guilt. We find comfort in the fact that we aren’t directly enabling their abuse. As consumers, we don’t demand more from the companies we buy from. The little things that make up our day, they travel a great distance to reach us – one that is worlds apart.

Written by Cynthia Maria D’Souza, Tulika Somani, Radhika Taneja and Siri Rajanahally for MTTN

Edited by Siri Rajanahally

Images by Arvin Das and Vidisha Deo

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