Aditi: Can you help me? I am kind of lost here…Which is
the way to the bus stop?
Arvind: Bus stop? Where do you want to go?
Aditi: To Madhupur.
Arvind: Hmmm…you are moving in the wrong direction.
But you can take a short cut from here. Come I will show
Aditi: So you stay around here?
Arvind: Yes, right there..(points to a cluster of huts in the
outskirts of the mine)..Where are you from, and what are
you doing here?
Aditi: I stay in Kolkata. I have come to see these mines. I
want to do a project for my school on them.
Arvind: (scratches his head): What’s a project?
Aditi: I am going to write about
how iron ore is explored and
extracted here. It is so thrilling to
see the source of this mineral,
don’t you think?
Arvind: (looking puzzled)
Thrilling? But why?
Aditi: (waving her hand around
excitedly) Well you know…It is
used for making practically
everything that we use in our daily
lives. For building our houses, our
cars, our trains, our roads, for
making steel. It is used as raw
material for almost all the core
industries. And to think that it all
begins here... But you must know
this better than me, You stay here.
Arvind: Well, I haven’t really
thought about it. They started
digging here when I was a little
boy, may be seven years old. Now
I must be about 16.
Aditi: Oh my god…so you have
grown up with the mines around
you. This will be such an interesting story for my project!
Come let us sit here for five minutes, and you tell me how
these mines changed your life.
Arvind: (sits with Aditi, but still looks puzzled): You want to
write about me?
Aditi: Yes, yes. Tell me all about it. What did this place look
like before they began digging?
Arvind: (Sits quietly, thinking, for a couple of minutes): I
remember lush green forests and tiny hillocks. Our little
village was tucked in a corner just outside the forests. My
sisters and I knew every alleyway, and had a name for every
tree around us. Everyday, we took our goats into the forests
and as they grazed, we played hide and seek. My mother
was with us sometimes, picking fruits, roots and leaves. She
made wonderful medicines at home from those leaves, you know. All our cuts and burns used to heal within a week.
But she was there every morning, too, gathering twigs and
pieces of wood that she carried home, to light the chulha.
My father joined us, too. He collected bagfuls of mahua and
tendu leaves. But those were not to be used at home. He
stored them in our backyard and went to the market in
Madhupur, where you will go now…to sell. My elder sisters
went to school then, because he earned enough.
Sometimes he came back with clothes for all of us, and
bangles for my mother. (Wistfully) You know, I miss those
Aditi: (a little impatiently) Yes, but when did the digging
Arvind: One day, a group of people from the towns came
in driving a jeep. They were
carrying all kinds of strange
looking tools, and began
measuring our forests and our hills.
It went on for many days, while all
of us in the village watched them
curiously, wondering what they
were up to. Then we got to know.
Two very important-looking
gentlemen arrived one day, and
asked for our headman. All the
men in the village clustered around
them listening intently. Later our
father told us that these babus
were from the forest department.
They have discovered rich minerals
under the land we lived on. We
needed to vacate our village and
move somewhere else, so that the
company, which had been given
the permission to dig there, could
begin work. ‘But we don’t want to
go,’cried my mother, ‘We have
lived here all our lives, this is our
land’. My father said the babus
were saying the land actually belonged to the government,
not to us. But there was good news, too, he tried to cheer
up my mother who was howling with anger by now. ‘We
are going to be given jobs by the company here. So we shall
be earning a lot of money,” he said.
Aditi: (more subdued now): What did you do?
Arvind: I only remember my mother crying as we packed
little bundles, preparing to leave. We were given patches of
land to build our huts again. I did not like my new house, it
was much more cramped than our old home with the
backyard. But the saddest thing was that we were told to
stay out of the forests. It belonged to the company now. If
we tried to get in, we could be punished for trespassing! It
was terrible. Our goats died because we could not feed
them, and my sisters had to stop going to school.
Aditi: But why? Didn’t your father get a job in the mines?
Arvind: He did work as a labourer at the site for some time.
But then huge, gigantic machines to drill the hills were
brought in. Then he, along with many other village men,
were told one day that their services were no longer
required. The machines were more efficient.
Aditi: Did he find any other job then?
Arvind: No. He was too sick by then.
Aditi: What happened to him?
Arvind: The drilling was on full scale, and we could
constantly hear blasts, as the boulders and rocks were
loosened and broken by explosives. All we could see was
red dust. Everywhere. The soil, the leaves of the remaining
trees, had thick layers of dust on them. And some of us, like
my father and my little sister, developed racking coughs.
The village doctor said their lungs were full of red grains! He
could barely eat, and lay moaning in our hut.
Aditi: (near to tears now) : But, but, the rest of you?
Arvind: My mother was taking care of the family. But she
had loads to do. After drilling began, the first showers
came. And all the dust that was flying around in the air, now
settled on the stream that wound around our village. It
turned red! My mother had to go farther and farther away
from home to find a water hole, which still had clean water.
Even now, she spends most of her day fetching water for
drinking and cooking. Now I help her...