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Field to Factory: Film and ethnography of industrialisation in Chhattisgarah, Central India


(Timings from 0.0 at first frame)


Mangtu:   From near that pillar up to just past the canal, that was our ancestral land, our farm land for many generations.

Ajay:        When did you sell this land?

Mangtu:  Almost seven years ago. . I can't tell you the exact date because I am illiterate.




Ajay:    What is Ghotto, Mangtuji?

Magtu: Ghotto is a cheep meal made from the cheapest kind of  lentils and broken rice cooked with a lot of water, so as to fill our belly.

Ajay:   Then what happened to your father and mother?

Mangtu: My father died when I was very young. I can hardly remember him. Soon after his death my mother married my uncle and went away with him.






Mangtu: The eldest is Chitra Bai, then Durjan. After him  there are Krishna Kumar and Tamaskar.




Chitra Bai: In earlier times, men used to keep four women. Now these poor people   are afraid to keep even one.

Mangtu:    In our days, in every village there were at least five to seven divorcees.. And men who are looking for women to marry would go round to  every house in the village prospecting.

Chitra Bai: Before a person would disown  his wife if she could not give him a child and he'd marry again. That's why they used to keep at least 2-3 wives.

Mangtu: Some people used to marry to have children and some of them even married just for fun.

Chitra Bai: Just for fun?

Mangtu:     Yes, only for fun.

Chitra Bai: That's very strange.

Mangtu:     People with many children also used marry just for fun.

Chitra Bai: It was a matter of pride to keep 3-4 women.

Mangtu:    Many people, like Chedi, marry just for pleasure, even after having many children from one marriage.

Chitra Bai: It's mostly illiterate people who  do that,  not others.

Mangtu:    Earlier people used not to study beyond 3rd or 4th standard. That used to be enough to be recognized as an educated person.

Chitra Bai: There were no schools near by. So, there was not much education and because  of illiteracy people used to keep more wives.

Mangtu:    My grand father used to say that since he had got only one grandchild, it was impossible to send that one child to school.

Mangtu:    And the teachers themselves used to came to the house.

Chitra Bai: Babu, did you ever go to school?

Mangtu:     No, I haven't been to school. Just twice I went..

Chitra Bai: Did the teachers come to invite you to join the school?

Mangtu:     Yes, they used to come to  each house to take children like me to school.


Ajay:    When did your economic situation start to improve?

Mangtu: When we sold our land we got some money. My grand father sold the land at the rate of Rs60 per acre. After some days, some land was  sold for Rs90 per acres, We kept on selling like this and at last only five to six acres of land was left which later on was sold by me after the Bhilai Steel Plant was established.

Mangtu: I gave a piece of land to my eldest daughter at Bahera Khaar. The whole place is being turned into  a residential colony now.

Ajay:     What's the name of the colony now?

Mangtu:  Now it is called as Ispat Nagar.

Ajay:      Oh, Ispat Nagar.

Mangtu: Yes.

Ajay:      And which colony is coming up in Dhanora Khaar?

Mangtu: I don't know.


Mangtu: My brother in law lives in Dumardih. He taught me the rudiments of the cattle business. He used to visit Mohpa, Katol, Amravati, Chauhatta, Aamgaon and even  Akola.

Mangtu: The white building out there,  used to be a free lodging house  before. Now it has become a government office. We used to cook here and sleep too.

Ajay:     How could you select the bullocks?

Mangtu: We used to identify and select the bullocks by judging whether they are active enough or not. We used to put  saw dust or dust from hay  on them and if the bullock shrugs it off then its an active one. Otherwise it will be stubborn.

Mangtu: We also used to check the age of the bullocks by counting its teeth.

Man::     In earlier days, people used to take the  bullocks by foot. But nowadays people take them in trucks, so that they can be delivered easily and sold in a fresh condition.

Mangtu: If you give the responsibility for droving to a hired person , he will not feed the bullocks properly.

Mangtu:  Earlier when I used to trade in bullocks, I used to hire a person named Jethu to drive the bullocks by foot, from Katol to Bhilai, a  distance of about 400 Km. It takes around 10 to 11 days. As a result, the bullocks used to get tired. So, in Bhilai we had to give them enough food and rest, for at least a week, to let the bullocks to get back their strength and fitness, Then we would take them to Raipur, Uttai, Baloda Bazaar and even to Baronda Bazar.   

Mangtu:  Once, after reaching Mohpa (from Baloda) we put up in a lodge for the night. Next morning we found that most of us had been pick-pocketed. Almost 9 of us lost all the money they were carrying. I was terribly shocked.  It could happen to me too. In my  anxiety  I thought of quitting bullock-trading for ever. At the same time I also received   a letter and joined a big factory.

Ajay:      What sort of letter did you receive?

Mangtu: An appointment letter from Bhilai Steel Plant.

Mangtu: There used to be very deep ditches inside the factory campus. It was said that many people were pushed into those ditches. Because of this local villagers were scared to work there inside the plant.


Ajay:    Then why did you go there?

Mangtu: I thought that I had visited a lot of  places while selling bullocks. A person with so much experience of traveling is virtually fearless. So I thought. I will go whatever happens.

Mangtu: At first I went to the open hearth section. There was an officer named Ghatker. I worked there for a week. The temperature there was so hot that I was unable to work there. When I told the officer my problem he scolded me, 'how can a young man like you not be able to work here.'   When I went back to return my shoes, telling them that I wouldn't be able to work, the same officer started scolding me again saying that I was disrupting the working environment. Gradually, I adopted a very cunning policy. Every day, on my way to the plant I used to look very  carefully to see whether any smoke was coming out of the chimney.  If there was some smoke, that

               meant that the furnace was working and I wouldn't have to go down inside to clean the ashes out. So, I would go to the plant on those days. Otherwise, if there was no smoke, I would skip work  that day. This way I continued for 24 years in the Bhilai Steel Plant.  

               Inside the plant, I worked with the carpenter  making holes in the wooden blocks and many such things. Then I was sent to work with the brick layers. At first  I used to assist them. My job was to identify different types of bricks by the numbers inscribed on them.  It was a difficult job for me because I am illiterate. Usually I would take other people to help  identify the bricks. But gradually I picked up the art of identifying the right  bricks in my own way. After working there for a while I was sent to work in the 'fork lift operation section'. After that I was sent to the 'Soaking pit' section where again I was driving a fork lift truck. After working for several years I told them that I couldn't work any longer. At that time the rules relating to voluntary retirement had been brought out. I sent my application in 3- 4 times but the officer would not forward it. He would say,  'all the other operators sleep during the night shift but this operator works properly even during the night and quite efficiently too. We will not allow him to retire. So they refused to allow me to leave. Finally, with great difficulty I was allowed to leave.

19.10  BIKE

Bindu:    In ancient India, women used to receive a lot of respect. But suddenly during the medieval age, when Babar conquered India, their condition deteriorated substantially. Babar and his men raped many Indian women. Therefore, by the arrival of the 18th century, several rights of women were taken away from them. Women were caged inside their houses which resulted in their degradation and loss of dignity. In this era, the education of women almost stopped. The tradition of child marriage and sati started and the marriage of widows was prohibited...



Ajay:     What was your childhood  like?

Mangtu: Our childhood was very difficult. The teachers tried very hard to give us some education. They used to come to our houses to take us to  school. The elders used to say that there was no point in us studying because in the end we'd have to work in the fields like everyone else.





Kulendri:  My father is not educated; but he can still maintain the accounts. Whereas we are being educated and yet can't  do the work that he does. He never felt the need to study. He can calculate very fast in his head. He can remember all the past events just like a computer.

Mangtu:    I had no education. But still I can remember everything. I have learned a lot of work like farming, bullock trading and foundry work. I also learned the "Narshi" language. The brokers used to con us by talking in "Narshi" language which, initially, we could not understand. But then gradually I picked it up. Once some brokers were trying to cheat me by using "Narsi". So I countered them in "Narsi'   knowing that I had caught them in the act they immediately shifted to English, thinking that I will not be able to understand. Then I said, '12345678910.. I understand English'. Then they replied, 'please forgive us. You can pay what ever you like'.


Mangtu:   After I split up with my third wife,  my brother-in-law approached me one day  offering to find  a new wife for me through  his own mediation. He was always accusing me, saying  that none of my marriages survived because of  my  bad choices.  So, we went to the Uttai village market to look for a mate. After searching for a while my brother in law finally spotted the girl  he had already fixed up for me.  The girl was with her parents. My brother- n-law paid them Rs80 to fix  the engagement. But, after a few days,  when my would be mother in law came to visit my house,  she immediately realized when she saw  Tabla and Chikara  (Musical instruments) there that I was associated with Gammat (traditional folk theater) activities. She did not have a high opinion of folk theatre artists and told me that she did not want to give her daughter to a cheap, low down joker. But the girl turned her back on her mother. She insisted that if she has to marry then she will only marry me.


Mangtu:  When I used to do Gammat at that time there was no electricity. We used to light a torch and dance with all the instruments like tabla tied to our body. We used to play chikara and manjira and go around and dance. In one particular gammat play there is the character of a man...

Husband:  Billo's mother, can you hear me? I've been calling you for ages but you aren't listening.

B's mother: What has happened? Why are you shouting?

Husband:     Nothing's happened yet? Are you expecting something to happen?

B's mother: What's the matter, will you please tell me?

Husband:    What is there to tell you? I went outside and on the way a dog barked at  me.

B's mother: The dog only  barks  at you,  not at anyone else..

Husband       Don't eat my brains. I am already disturbed.. I've beaten up the dog  several times

B's mother: Then you have done a good job

Husband:      What good job I have done? The dog is dead now..

B's mother: Dead!!!

Husband:      To file a case against the dog owner we have to go to Calcutta!!

B's mother: Calcutta.!!!!

Husband:      It will take 4-5 days to go there and you have to take care of the house

B's mother:   Finish off the work fast and come back soon

Husbad:         Sure. I am going now.

Mangtu:        As he left for Calcutta for the trial, 2 men from the village came to his house.

B's mother:   He has left for Calcutta just now

Man:              We all know that he has left. We have just come like that

B's mother:   If you know that then please have a seat, I'll preparer tea for you.

Man:              What will we sit on?

B's mother:     I am bringing some chairs

Man:                Then bring them fast

Magtu:            She made them sit and served them tea. Meanwhile the owner   arrived back.

B's mother: You bloody fool! I have already told the servant.will I run away with his jewelry. Won't I return it ..??

Husbad:      Who are you whispering to inside? Open the door, Billo's mother...

B's mother: Bhushan, it seems that my husband has returned

Man:             Now what will we do?   We'll be caught. Is there some one to save us? Throw  the cups in the fire. Somebody please save us..

B's mother:  Save you? Then you do one thing. Give me the cup. One of you go and see and the other become a statue

Man:            Become a statue?

B's mother: And now you become a horse .

Mangtu:       One person became a statue and the other became a horse.

Husband:      What are you doing? Open the door

B's mother: Wait. Why are you shouting? I'm opening the door

Husband:      Now please open the door

B's mother: I'm just coming

Husband:    Have you gone mad? I have come from so far and I'm shouting to you to open the door and you're not opening

B's mother: The dogs were barking...

Husband:      Barking dogs ..have you gone mad?

B's mother: What is this? Have you forgotten everything? This is the horse which we brought from my fathers house

Husband:     Does it kick

B's mother: You know better

Husband:     What a horse! And what is this?

B's mother: You are so forgetful. This is the statue which we brought along with the horse

Husband:      This statue looks like a man and even winks at us

B's mother:    It performs too

Husband:         Then make it dance

B's mother:     Shall I make it dance?..

Husband:         What a good performance. Wov! Now look . this statue also has a moustache. It is a good one. It has a good nose. He also has ears like a real man. I also want to operate it.

B's mother:     Look

Mangtu:           Let me operate it. And then the toy puts a big slap on him. This man shouts 'you bastards' I will teach you a lesson.

Husband:         You turncoat. Bring the red chilly. Now, I will teach you a lesson.



Baba :          O.. Thagia, has the last day of the relief work arrived?

Girl:             Yes Baba. I am going to get my wages.

Baba;          Yes girl, you go and send the boy to work in the fields. He won't have to study. What's the use any way?

Girl:            Yes Baba, I'll send him.

Girl:            Good day, Metbabu {supervisor}.

Metbabu:     Good day Thagia. Are you keeping well?

Girl:            We are fine with your blessings

Metbabu:     Have you come to collect your wages? How much..?

Girl:             Don't tease me.

Metbabu:       I'm asking about your wages..

Girl:              It is there in the register.

Metbabu:      Yes ... now,  I have found it. You have worked for 15 days, so @Rs 10/- per day.... The total comes to Rs 100/-. Take this Rs100 and sign here.

Girl:              I don't know how to sign.

Metbabu:      If you don't know to sign, then give me your hand....yes give me your right hand..good.... now how are you going to get loose...?


Mangtu:       The play that you saw is my own story.  Once I did not know how to write my name. Now all my children are educated but I am still illiterate. Then they taught me to write my name which is the only thing I have learned. My children complain that I am not educated, I am  illiterate and don't know anything. They have rebuked me many a times like this. When I was young I did not realize the importance of education. Now when people call me illiterate I feel terribly embarrassed and sad. Even my wife complains that had I taken education seriously, then I could have achieved much more in life.


38.30   CHITRA BAI

Chitra Bai:   You can see that educated people are able to get good jobs and live well. Their living standard is very high. And looking at them we aspire to get good jobs for our children.