By Nandini Krishnan
Once, as I was driving home late at night, I saw a box-like van with tired shapes huddled against each other. Certain that these were camels being illegally transported to slaughterhouses, the animal rights activist in me fumbled for her phone and sped to get close enough to the van to capture evidence of the violation and the truck’s number plate. When I was about twenty feet away, I realised what I had mistaken for the rumps of camels were the arms and torsos of men pressed close together. If they had vests on, they were dirty. Their eyes were red. Their arms reached up to hold on to grips from the instinctive fear of falling if the truck were to brake suddenly, though they had no room to fall. They must have been migrant labourers, being driven from a construction site to the makeshift shanties where they would be housed for the duration of their contracts. This daily journey, the culmination of long hours for which they were paid so little that it made more economic sense to ferry and house them than to employ local labour, would be uncomfortable enough to ensure that wherever they collapsed, perhaps on a ragged cloth in a shed heated through the day by its tin roof, would be a relief.
My mind kept returning to that image as I read Prayaag Akbar’s Leila. That is the world he conjures in 200 pages, a bleak universe where hope is a speed bump. Where did those men in the truck bathe? What emboldened them to bring children into the world? What made them travel great distances to break stones, carry bricks, and inhale dust? What gave them the courage to dream? Read more
Source: The Wire