when your two best friends start dating each other “Saheb”, he says while palming his chewing tobacco, “How many times does the word ‘coolie’ appear in everyday conversation?” I look at him and answer, “Not too many times”.
Gathering the tobacco in a pinch, he slides it along the left side of his jaw. “Precisely. We are a dying breed, we and this occupation are going to be something which kids would read about in storybooks. The government is polishing up the railway sector. Platforms and railway stations are being maintained regularly. Most of the passengers these days have bags with wheels attached to them, they pull it around. That has been the reason why everything is falling apart, people don’t need us anymore.”
He pauses and removes his cap. “This profession used to be an ancestral one. My father was a coolie, but I do not want my son to do this job. I want him to get a proper education. Manual work is taking a secondary role, technology is everywhere.” I smile and he nods excitedly. “There are days when even if we can afford a day off, our shoulders still feel heavy. As if there’s still some load on our shoulders, we feel strange without a bag or a suitcase on our backs. Our government wants us to retire at 60, but we can’t. I know a coolie who works everyday, without a fail, and he’s 71 years old. Our families depend on us, there is no fixed income. No pensions, no medical facilities or insurance. Several people in this line of work have had accidents and have lost their lives, it’s a game of risk everyday”, he pauses and spits the tobacco.
“We don’t expect handouts; we wake up every day knowing what’s in store for us. I just wish people were considerate of the fact that it’s a physical task. They bargain a lot. Who doesn’t, but our kind of work pays very less for the efforts we put in. We just want everyone to think of us at least when they’re on a railway station. We don’t have a fixed working time or shift, the need to put food on the table dictates when and how long our shift is going to be.”
“Tell this city that we’re still here, we’re always ready to carry the luggage” he laughs. Waving at me, he walks away and stands near a platform, eagerly waiting for a customer.