The booming construction industry in Bengaluru attracts many migrants to the city. Students of St. Joseph’s Boys’ High School, Bengaluru, interviewed construction workers in the city as part of their Class 11 Economics project for the year 2019-2020. They worked with PARI Education to document the lives of men and women who have travelled from villages across India to find jobs as construction labourers, masons, tilers and more.
In this set of stories, we look at the journeys of five migrants to Bengaluru from places as far as Cooch Behar in West Bengal to Viluppuram in Tamil Nadu. Some long for people and places from the past, while others power through their days to give their children a better life.
‘I live in a tent made of plastic sheets’ is the story of Shyam Ghanshyam who had to leave home to feed his family after the disastrous West Bengal floods; he hopes his child will get the education that he was not fortunate enough to have.
‘My arms ache, my throat hurts, my eyes burn’ is the story of Sulai, a 57-year-old man who worries about his elderly mother and misses the exuberant Pongal celebrations in his village Viluppuram.
In ‘I miss my family’, Narayan Chandra Mandol thinks of his young children growing up in Cooch Behar district, West Bengal, while he makes a living far away in Ejipura, Bengaluru, where he lives alone.
‘I wish I could go back to the past’ is the story of Shrimal Varman who had a passion for sweet-making but was forced to abandon his dream for a construction job that brought in a better income.
In ‘All my past debts have been repaid’, Raghavan says he focuses on the day-to-day, all the while waiting to see his grandchildren grow up and have happy lives.
‘I live in a tent made of plastic sheets’
My name is Shyam Ghanshyam. I am 29 years old. I grew up in West Bengal in a district called Medinipur, which is my birthplace. We used to have a house that my father built with his life savings, but it was washed away, along with a huge part of our land in the terrible West Bengal floods of 2008. We still have a tiny piece of land – around a quarter of an acre, where we grow some vegetables, but it gives us no profit as the crop yield is very low and we use it for household purposes. Our new house is very small. It was built using flood relief aid of 14,000 rupees.
I work on a construction site in Bengaluru’s Edward Road in central Bengaluru. My work is called file forming – I lay the foundation of an entire building. I have to sit in a huge vehicle that does the file forming.
I initially stayed at home back in Bengal like any other teenager there. I heard about form filing from a friend when I was 21 years old, but I didn’t consider it seriously as I thought I would do my higher studies. When I saw my family unable to get two meals a day, I decided to work. My sister’s wedding was also coming up, and we desperately needed the money. As the eldest child, I have to help them in every way possible. My family depends on my earnings.
I learnt how to do form filing by watching the supervisor when I first started working in West Bengal at age 23. I earned only 200 rupees a day at the time. I then moved to Odisha and earned 350 rupees a day. In Bengaluru, I earn 600 rupees a day that is nearly double the previous amount, making my life easier.
My co-workers and I live in a tent made of plastic sheets at the construction site. One of them does all the cooking. We get Sundays and public holidays off.
My wife and three-year-old daughter live in Medinipur, and my father, who is 59 years old, looks after our land. I usually travel home twice a year but in case of emergencies, I go more often. Two months ago, when my daughter fell ill, I had to go and visit her. My hometown is 1,780 kilometres from Bengaluru. I usually take the train from here to Kolkata, then I take a bus from Kolkata to Medinipur, a four-hour journey. It costs me around 3,000 to 3,500 rupees to reach home.
I want my daughter to receive a good education and become an engineer. I want her to fulfil my dreams of studying as I could not. My life is a struggle, but I will never let that affect my family. All I want is for them to be happy.
Student reporters: Dinah Parveez, Ananya Ravi and Vamshika Hegde
‘My arms ache, my throat hurts, my eyes burn’
I lift sand for a living. My arms ache while digging the sand, my throat hurts from the dust and my eyes burn. I carry this sand and pass it on to my co-worker who collects it in one corner of the site. We work six hours a day, six days a week.
My name is Sulai, and I am a 57-year-old construction worker on a site in Adarsha Nagar, Bengaluru, Karnataka. I live a 10-minute walk away from the site with my wife, brother and sister-in-law. I came here from Viluppuram village in Tamil Nadu.
I have four children, two boys aged 18 and 22, and two girls aged 12 and 15. They also work nearby at a construction site in R.T. Nagar. My eldest son studied till Class 2, while my other children have never attended school. I want to send them to a good school, but we cannot afford their fees and we need the extra income.
My wife and I each earn 230 rupees a day. We mainly spend on food and travel. The cost of living in the city is very high unlike back home in my village. I send a part of my wages to my mother who lives in the village. We have no savings. My village – Viluppuram taluka, in Viluppuram district – is where I was born and lived for the first 40 years of my life. Summers are very hot in my village in Tamil Nadu. My parents and I used to work on a landlord’s paddy fields as daily wage labourers. We took a loan from the landlord for my sister’s wedding.
One day, a rusted iron nail from one of the agricultural implements hurt my finger. Despite the pain, I could not rest because we had a lot of work during the harvest season and if we did not finish the work, the landlord would not pay us. It was a deep wound and soon became infected. When I visited the local doctor, he told me that it had spread to two other fingers and that all three would have to be amputated. I had to take a break from work. Without my income, my family – my wife and our four children – couldn’t manage our expenses and we sold our house to pay off our debts. So, I no longer have any house or land in my village.
I had to find work to support my family and pay for food and my medical expenses. I found this construction job through a friend in my village. He works as a gardener here. His employer was constructing a new house and was in search of workers. By then my hand had healed, so my wife and I took up this job.
I visit my village every two or three months. It takes me seven hours each way by bus. My mother, Rangamma is 78 years old and lives with my aunt in our village; they take care of each other. My father died of a heart attack at the age of 81.
I miss my village, especially during Pongal. We used to gather and celebrate the festival together, sharing whatever little we had. My children miss playing with their cousins and friends from the village. I find Bangalore to be an alien land with new people. I also miss my mother. She hasn’t been feeling well lately. I hope that one day, our living conditions become better.
Student reporter: Shekha Nair
‘I miss my family’
I was in Class 10 and my exams were around the corner. On the day of my first exam, I sold my bicycle and mobile phone and caught the 11:30 a.m. train. I ran away from home. I never wrote that exam.
I am Narayan Chandra Mandol, also known as Balram. My father is a farmer in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal. I used to help him in the fields – he has three bigha of land, roughly equal to one acre. From a young age, I would work here along with my brothers. There was not enough work for all of us; I also did some additional work to supplement our income. But the money we earned was not sufficient to support our family, and so I ran away to Bengaluru in 2009.
Now, I am 26 years old. My wife Pinky Mandol is 23 years old. I have two sons – Pritham, 4 and Adi, 2. My wife and children live at home in my village. I live in a room in Ejipura, Bengaluru. I am a construction labourer and I work from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. I do the work of plastering and I learnt this work through observation; I was taught by Govinda, also a construction worker.
When I first started working, I used to earn 97 rupees a day. We have better tools than when I started and my responsibilities are greater. These days I earn 900 rupees a day and I am paid at the end of every week. We do not always get paid on time and that causes difficulties. I am a contractor and responsible for ensuring that all the other workers get paid on schedule. I am also responsible for cooking their daily meals, watching over the work they do and making sure it is completed on time. I get every alternate Sunday off – I relax or meet my friends on these days.
I miss my parents, but I visit them regularly. I return home every eight months for about 10-15 days at a time. While I am there, I help my father on our land. I miss my family. I miss the food cooked by my mother and my wife. I miss the relaxed life I had there. I miss playing with my little children. I miss everything about my home.
Student reporters: Inara Zayn and Dweep Katariya
‘I wish I could go back to the past’
My name is Shrimal Varman. I am 26 years old. I migrated to Bengaluru nine years ago in search of a job. I was born and grew up in Dudher Kuthidewanbas, in Cooch Behar taluka, Cooch Behar district of West Bengal. I studied in a government school for only six years after which I had to start working to support the family.
I work on a construction site in Balepet, Bengaluru. I earn 725 rupees a day and work from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. We are paid daily, and so if we take a day off, we don’t get paid. I send 10,000 rupees every month to my family to help them out financially.
Ten of us workers share a small shelter made from wood, aluminium and plastic sheets. The shelter floods whenever it rains and we have to work to drain the water. We use a motor to suck the water out of the shelter and then use buckets to pour it out. Our clothes, food and other belongings get ruined during the rains.
I first started working on a construction site near my home in Cooch Behar along with a few of my friends. We were all recruited to work there. A builder called Guru helped me with finding work and he continues to do so. I now work for a small firm whose name I don’t know.
My family owns half an acre of land and we have a small house with two bedrooms, a hall, a kitchen and a bathroom. We are seven members in all: my 90-year-old mother, Malti, two older brothers – Nityananda (44) and Parimal (28), my sister-in-law Trimala, and my two nephews, Tirvan and Rapon. We are planning to expand our house as my older brother and I are going to get married soon.
My brothers work on the farm growing vegetables and a few other cash crops. They can earn an average of 20,000 rupees annually if there is a good harvest. But if there is a mishap or disaster, they don’t earn anything.
I visit my family only once a year or during emergencies and it costs me around 1,500 rupees to travel by train. It takes three days to reach my hometown from Bengaluru. I take a bus from the railway station to my village, get off a kilometre away from my house and then walk the rest of the way.
I wish I could go back to my village and work with my brothers but there are no steady jobs there. So, I somehow convince myself to live here, far away from my family, for their well-being. I miss my parents a lot and sometimes get sad thinking about it, but then I distract myself by thinking about other things so I can continue to support them. I don’t have any particular place where I want to work. I don’t want to try anything new at this point because I am not familiar with the city and no business will bloom in my hometown either. If I get a job with better pay, I will accept it.
When I was growing up, we did not have enough food, proper clothes or a nice house. The reason I am working so hard now is so that my family won’t have to face such hardships ever again. My nephews study in the village: the younger one is studying in Class 9 and the older one is in college. They used to walk to school but we have now bought them bicycles so they can get around easily. I want them to have the things they need to achieve their dreams.
When I was a child, I worked at a sweet stall and earned a little as well, but as time went by, I left that job as the amount I was paid was very low. I wish I could go back to the past and start work as a sweetmaker or something else that I had a passion for. I have no ambitions or future goals now as I feel that they are not worth having; they will never come true no matter how hard I try. I will work with everything I have, and leave the rest to my fate.
Student reporter: Karthik M.D.
‘All my debts have been repaid’
I am Raghavan and I am 49 years old. I used to live in an Irular colony near Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu. I grew sugarcane, corn, bananas and rice for one season every year – around three to four months. I would earn around 10,000 to 20,000 rupees a season.
I sold all my land a long time ago as I decided to stop doing agricultural work. I have a house in my village, but it remains locked and only gets used when we return.
I found this job through a young man in my village who told me about construction work in Bengaluru. He told us that it would give us a better income than the agricultural work I did back home. On hearing this, my wife Rajamma and I decided to come to this city.
My work involves mixing up to four bags of cement per day. I started doing this work around 10 years ago. When I started, my daily wage was 200 rupees a day and now, I make 500 rupees a day. I work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and have Sundays off. We are given meals by the contractor at our construction camp where we stay with the others from work.
I usually travel home once a month but if there is urgent work to be completed here, then I go only once every two to three months.
It takes around three to four hours to travel to and from my village near Tiruvannamalai by bus. The journey costs around 300 rupees per person for a trip.
I do not miss much in my village, except the land I sold. I feel life is slightly better here. All my past debts have been repaid, and I try to avoid borrowing money or taking loans as far as possible.
My wife, Rajamma, has always been by my side, supporting me throughout. She used to help me with farming when we had our land, and she now works alongside me at the construction site, carrying mixed cement and doing cleaning work. We have three wonderful daughters – they are all married and I have three grandchildren from my two older daughters.
I just focus on day-to-day work. My wish is for my grandchildren to grow up and do really well in life.
Student reporter: Maria Reeba Robel Kangapadan
About the reporters
One of the first schools to bring PARI into the curriculum, St. Joseph’s Boys’ High School, Bengaluru has been working with PARI to document the lives of migrants in the city. This is the second year that the students of Class 11 have gone into the field to identify, interview and document migrants around them, with special emphasis on construction labourers.
About the illustrator
Antara Raman is a graduate from the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru. Using real-life incidents, including farmer suicides and the growing clout of agri-business, she explores injustices towards farmers and how a world of plentiful food is utopian and unrealistic. Antara believes that the world of storytelling and illustration are symbiotic, and her work for PARI Education reflects that.
Read more from this series,