In three months my company will be thirty years old. Out of the six people who I started off with, two will be bidding farewell this year to now a sixty five strong enterprise.
Om Parkash Sharma came with craftsmanship and experience, introduced to me by an architect. In the initial years he was the bulwark, bringing new people on board to build a team. He was forty, a good twelve years older than me and through the years we both learnt a lot from each other.
Though I never quite achieved his level of patience and he didnt quite understand my obsession with dates & timelines we managed a fairly hiccup free association.
~Ho jayega~ he would airily wave, to my irritation, tucking a wad of tobacco in his underlip.
The dynamics of our working relationship took a turn when a wrought iron welder came to discuss rates, design and a project in my office. Hesitating for a moment when I initiated the discussion he had asked, ~Saab kahan hain?~
This by the way, was 1993.
To which Om Parkash had responded ~Madam ka karobaar hai~
This was a noticeable shift from the position he had taken three years earlier when he had responded to the same question by a surprised new hand by saying. ~Saab busy hain. Madam se baat kar lo~
It had hurt me then that he was implying that a man was in charge, not once letting on that he worked with me and that I ran the entire show.
Through the years he was my window to the lives of young apprentices who lived in peripheral areas of the Capital, in shared, rented rooms, up at 4 am to fill water, queuing up for public toilets, cooking & packing a meagre lunch before reporting for a 12 hour work day. I also learnt that life back in the village had several social compulsions – to feed so many, to give so much for which he was always sending or borrowing money.
Over time, my definition of intellectualism changed completely with his flow of language, reasoning, ideas, history, faith, even plain common sense … Between him and a few others of that vintage an unfamiliar world opened up besides of course learning the difference between dedh and dhai …
From coming to work on a cycle, then graduating to a scooter and on to a Wagon R. Each milestone was celebrated with chai, samosa and laddoo in the factory as was his buying a house and then the second, in one of Delhi’s numerous unauthorised colonies.
Two years ago he had begun talking of retirement, of taking it easy as his son now worked with Pizza Hut, Dubai.
~I can’t let these hands go lazy~ said this craftsman of nearly seventy who for twenty nine years straight worked from 9 to 9, six days a week and insisted on Sundays 9 to 5 for his team.
~So~ he said ~I’ll hire two young carpenters and make some affordable furniture~ taking a jibe at me.
Yes, he would certainly come for our 30th work anniversary celebrations and of course was available for ‘consultancy’ but by Diwali 2019, he wanted his workshop up and going with a framed recommendation in Hindi and Angrezi from me hanging on his new walls.
Meanwhile, Sumer Khan who has worked with us for just as long & whose career trajectory has followed the same path as Om Parkash, is also planning to give up site work & will assist his younger son in a grocery shop he helped set up for him.
The older one joined us six years ago and will now head one of the electrical teams …the same boy who played with mine out in the garden, cycling up and down the drive on holidays when I brought him along to work. His daughter graduated from the Indira Gandhi Open University a few years ago and then did a course in computers, sometimes helping father & son prepare their project schedule drafts on excel.
My one etched memory is of this small, slight cheerful man having cycled six kms from his house to the factory at 3 am on a winter morning to fix a new generator that wouldn’t switch off. After handling the situation he had tea ready for the 9 am troop in & then left to sleep for a few hours.
I still don’t know how the message was sent to him because it was before cell phones and he didn’t have access to a landline.
Over thirty years of working together there is a mosaic of conversations shared between two people. His simple & unique explanation of his genealogy stays ~Bas, sunte sunte Sunni ban gaye~
Khan Saab as he is called by all of us, went to visit family in Pakistan one year. That was his one & only visit. When asked by curious co workers did he consider staying back …
~Nahi bhai ~ he said touching his ears. ~ Musalmaan hi Musalmaan. Jahan dekho, Musalmaan~
Every one around erupted with laughter & when he realised what he had said he chuckled some too.
Though we don’t say it often enough, we are indeed unique with our tapestry of caste, creed, language.
There amongst drawings, hammer drills, compressors, sawing machines & saw dust, men and women from different parts of this land focus on the challenges, trials and tribulations, mind and body, putting together a project and then savouring the accolades which follow, with someone’s phone on a charger playing a happy Bollywood number.
From Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, UP, Bihar, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Delhi, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Orissa we form a little world of our own, working towards common goals, putting aside any differences.
Though people write this in College Year Books I will do so on parting with old colleagues
~How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard~