house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Friday, 3 May 2013

The Game of See - Unsee

(Picture from the 'Tribune' newspaper, under the heading '100 Words'. I don't remember the '100 words' exactly, just fragments: bonded labour in a brick kiln near Peshawar. An Afghan family working there. Children turning bricks one by one, to dry in the sun.)

On the morning this photograph was taken, these children were shaken out of their beds early, and each given a small but scalding cup of tea. The tea was strong, with lots of milk and half a spoonful of sugar. (Sweeter would be nicer, but sugar is expensive, amma says.) Maybe there was breakfast too, a shred of roti sprinkled with crushed chillies.

The day was the same as every day they can remember. In their small and dusty clothes, they were ushered out the door and walked - holding their younger sister by the hand - to the brick kiln.

Then they worked all day. They crouched in the sun, turning the bricks one by one, to dry evenly in the fierce heat. They lined newly made bricks next to the others. They carried bricks to trucks. They may have cleared away some of the broken shards and dust.

There was no school. They have no idea what 'school' is - and they're unlikely to find out. They'll just work here, day after day, coughing a little from the red dust. Ahead of them, a lifetime of equal days in the brick kiln, not much else. With all those bricks they could build a road to the moon and back.

Why is this their life? They would never ask this question, but I do, and now you might too. Is it fate? Is it ignorance? Is it cruelty? Is it money, because some relative once took a loan that he couldn't repay? And in lieu of payment, generations of his family are now 'bonded'. They are all linked together by a chain of red brick dust.

They are slaves.

Your eyes have just jumped back to the picture, right? You read that last sentence and looked back. You took in their faces, the bare feet, those heart-piercing smiles. You saw how small their hands look on those bricks - how can they grasp them? Lift them? How heavy are they? How many bricks can they turn, can they carry, in one day? And the little one, standing? Is she supposed to work too? Is someone about to come and give her a slap, a push, because she took a break? All these things went through your mind, maybe more: because you've never seen, and probably never expected to see, in your lifetime, slavery, real slaves, child-slaves.

And what do we do now? Now that we've all seen something we can't unsee, now that real life is more intense than any fiction I could hide behind, now that we are changed: what do we do now?


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