Work Far from Home

Screenshot 2020-04-23 at 12.55.53 PM

 

Dear Sita, 

Hope you are keeping safe. These are strange and confusing times. I have been asked not to leave the camp, and have had a lot of time with my thoughts. And my thoughts almost always lead me to you.
I have a confession to make. When I am here, I am not the loud, funny, confident man you fell in love with. That changed the moment I got here.

There’s something about this beautiful city, made of steel, glass and lights, that inspires awe and shame at the same time. The city is like a beautiful woman you see in the movies. You can have posters of her in your room, buy first-day-first-show tickets to her movies, remember her birthday all you like, but you know she would never give you a second look. That’s how I feel about this city.

I have been brought here to make her more beautiful for cheap. She’s like a rich woman who gets her eyebrows done at the roadside salon, but would never admit it. Or maybe I’m like a plastic surgeon she is too embarrassed to admit she goes to, but summons me with requests to make her buildings taller, roads wider, city lights brighter.

Funny how something I built with my own hands and know inside out could make me feel so small and undeserving. I’ve built towering buildings that look down on me. Made gates that would never open for me. Apartments that like to deny I’ve ever been there.
And it’s not just the buildings. Every now and then, a glare from a stranger feels more blinding than the city lights. 

It’s more apparent now that ever. They tell me a major disease is spreading, and that we need to remain in our camps. I don’t understand what the big deal is. On any other day if I had a fever, I’d have been asked to work. But they tell me this one could make you seriously ill. 

I sometimes manage to get my hands on a Tamil newspaper. Apparently the number of cases among us in construction have been spreading rapidly. They label ours “migrant cluster cases” and call the rest “community” cases.
I’m not sure why I am surprised or saddened by it. I’ve always known this wasn’t my city. But you can’t help but feel intimately about a city you built with your own hands. Or take pride in your work, when you create something so beautiful. Like a stepfather who raised a child he could never really claim as his own.


Anyway, I am not sure when I will get to work again or come back home. Don’t worry about me. I am safe and healthy. I am not worried about the lack of space – anyone who has taken the General Class train in Chennai will never complain about this room. Most of them don’t speak Tamil, but playing cards is a universal language. 

For now, I’ll settle for laying on this mattress and wishing you were here. Maybe someday, I’ll save enough for you to visit me. I’ll find us a tall building under construction, take you to the terrace, and show you the flickering city lights I put in place, just for you.


Photo: Steel Guru

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