Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Maker of Keys, and other migrant stories

You move into a new apartment, and you get two sets of keys. You take one, your spouse takes the other. But now there is a problem - you need a third key. It's for the maid, who comes in after the two of you have left for work.

So what do you do?

You go to the key wallah.

He sits under the shade of a tree, or at a little street stall. His only advertisement is the keys, hanging enticingly...you see them and are reassured..ah, this is a man who knows his trade, you think.

So you give him your key, and you say, make one just like this please. Then you wait and watch, while he works away.

The lady in the picture chose to spend the waiting time chatting. I overheard bits and pieces.

'Kahan ke ho, bhaiyya?' she said. Where are you from, brother?

In this city of migrants, this is clearly the starting point of many conversations. A sort of clearing of throats, a verbal clue, heralding the beginning of a friendly chat.

'UP ke hain', he said. I'm from Uttar Pradesh.

I wanted to hang around, eavesdropping, but I walked away, too polite to intrude.

I'm sure the usual questions would have followed: Do you have family here? What do your children do? I have myself asked these questions of taxi drivers, newspaper vendors, milkmen...the answers always tell the story of Bombay like nothing else can.

'My family is in the village', they sometimes say. There are hard economics behind that answer. In Mumbai, it is nearly impossible to find an affordable place to live. Even the slums are expensive. A registered legal hutment is hard to find, and if you did find one, say ten feet by ten feet, you would pay 500,000 rupees for it. That is more money than most migrants will earn in their whole lifetime. And then there are usually old parents in the village, or a bit of agricultural land that needs to be tended, or an ancestral home that no one wants to give up.

Sometimes, though, the answers tell stories of victory.

'My son is a trader in Dadar. He has his own shop near Kabutarkhana.'

'My daughter just got married, her husband works for the municipal corporation.'

'I brought my family to Bombay. We've been here too long for us to consider going back to the village.'

'My grandchildren go to an English-medium school here.'

These are the small success stories of migrants who have carved a place for themselves in their new environment. These are also the stories that bring more and more hopefuls into the city.

So everyday, the city slums swell with new arrivals. Once they arrive in Mumbai, the city works its magic. They lose the lethargy and slow pace of their villages, and they fall into the faster heartbeat of the city. They join the ranks of tradesmen, labourers, tea-sellers, errand boys, waiters, drivers, and car washers, all in a hurry, all rushing about to create their own little success story.

6 comments:

Abhik Majumdar said...

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CanisLupus said...

Its too spooky that you talked about key makers. I just got back from lunch and got a set of extra keys made for office and homed. takes less than a minute per key and costs a buck. and guess what the lady making the keys asked me. "where are you from ?" :)

Rohit said...

well what I generally try to figure out after "where are you from?" is the relevance of the place in my scheme of things. so if its firozabad i ask him about glass bangles, if its etawah i talk about mulayam singh yadav, if its salem then i try to figure how does a steel factory look like! great post!

dhika said...

Is it so easy to make duplicate keys? Generally to check that one is not making them for the wrong reasons, the key makers ask for the original lock.

Pulin K A said...

Let me tell you that any kind of key can be duplicated be it the our traditional 7 lever ie godrej locks or the very new security keys dimple keys,safe keys or our cupboard keys bikes cars or even locks without keys and can be duplicated in machines and that too without even tampering original key. Why am i telling you this because we are manufacturers of key blanks and our famously known brand Ashar. The name on the key is in hindi is used by all the key makers in India . We have a shop in dadar west Mumbai bang kabutar khana. This is our shop and here we duplicate it with machines with complete perfection. So pop in and have a look take care

Pulin K A said...

Let me tell you that any kind of key can be duplicated be it the our traditional 7 lever ie godrej locks or the very new security keys dimple keys,safe keys or our cupboard keys bikes cars or even locks without keys and can be duplicated in machines and that too without even tampering original key. Why am i telling you this because we are manufacturers of key blanks and our famously known brand Ashar. The name on the key is in hindi is used by all the key makers in India . We have a shop in dadar west Mumbai bang kabutar khana. This is our shop and here we duplicate it with machines with complete perfection. So pop in and have a look take care