There is something to be said about watching a carpenter at work : hearing the tap tap of a hammer, the swish of the wood plane leaving curly shavings in its wake, the dust cloud of a sanded board and the sweet smell of adhesive as the veneer clings on to the wood : it is almost as engrossing as a movie. For the past week I have had glimpses of Orissawala Manoj work on the drawers of my cupboard that needed repairing. As an eternal optimist I always hope things will right themselves and am particularly reluctant to call workmen home because firstly they don’t like coming for small jobs and if they do, you spend the better part of your day waiting for them to come, then open the door a hundred times to give them chai, paani, balti, chindhi, ladder, hear them make strange noises as they clear their throats from the bottom of their intestines, or just cough as though their lungs were falling out, or do anything that essentially breaks into the rhythm of your own work.
But this time things had gone too far!
These drawers had been crying for help a long time now. First the veneer began chipping, then the layers of bonded ply started swelling and pulling away and finally last week, they just flopped down open on the floor, exhausted and unhinged, unable to take the strain of pretending to shut anymore. Faced with such rebellious woodwork, I had no option but to fix them up and seeing my reluctance in calling for help, my father in law took matters into his own hands and contracted the job to Manoj Sahu a daily wage carpenter aged 27 years and resident of Chembur. This young man came to our home exactly a week ago and started on the job.
Contrary to my expectations, he was a quiet worker, who went about his job with dedication and seriousness. There was no time wasting going down to the loo, to buy bananas, to have a cup of chai or even an incessant ring of the cell phone. I liked the way he addressed his sole assistant – gently and politely : Beta screwdriver lao ( not rude gruff yelling) as they laboured quietly and unobtrusively with one drawer becaming two and one hinge multiplying into four and a day’s job pouring into the next. But Manoj went on chipping away , sanding down the wood and fixing up what needed fixing.
I realised how lucky we are to still have “unskilled” or rather “unorganised” workmen around! If it weren’t for them, we’d be throwing away an otherwise perfectly good piece of furniture just because the veneer has chipped off or the door is unhinged? These small time carpenters and masons who have no formal education, no degree to speak of, learn things on the job as did Manoj who came twelve years ago from far off Orissa. Starting out as an odd job man with a contractor in Parel he left behind his entire family and a family tradition of being Oil extractors ( whatever he meant by that). Slowly he figured out what he was good at and moved from one job to the next getting better and better. Today he is the master of his own outfit and has a mason, an electrician , a polishwalla and a painter to work with him. Obviously he will not be able to give you a plan or even make any architectural drawings but give him a job to do and he will execute it with precision .
So I asked him how he could be contacted the next time and he told me:
Bishnu Nagar Chembur me Nadnoo ka tabela me Orissawala Manoj koi bhi batayega!