I’m nearly 83 years old. I was 10 or 11 when the partition happened in 1947. Sikhs and Muslims slaughtered each other but we being Christians, were safe. The British safeguarded us, they considered us like their own people. They stamped us on the back and declared that we belonged to them. “If you kill one of them, we will kill 20 of yours.” that’s what they said. So, nobody touched us. There were corpses all around till the floods of ’55. Then the bodies floated away with the flowing water. It finally cleared up.
I couldn’t study. My parents tried to send me to school but the teachers used to beat children more then they taught them. So, out of fear I never stepped into the school. We would go to the fields, it was all wilderness around here, there wasn’t any construction like it is today. I herded cattle for years. When I grew up a little I went to learn ironworks from Ram Rayia, an ironsmith from Ajnala. I spent 7-8 years with him. But he didn’t teach me much, I learnt most of it by myself. He used to get his work done from me and at the end, he would tell me to get hay for his buffaloes. He used to have 6 buffaloes, which isn’t a small number. All my time used to get spent on these unnecessary chores. He didn’t even pay me anything. When I realized I know enough, I went to Doaba, did some farm labour, made money and bought my own tools. Rest of the stuff I got from the money I made while working in Amritsar. I’ve seen extreme poverty, I have worked hard to make this workshop a reality. The frame of my eye-glasses broke recently, I wanted to go to Ajnala to get it fixed but I don’t have time and there’s no one who can take me there.
I have two children, they also don’t listen to me much. They never learnt this work nor did they show any interest. They work as egg vendors and have a cart from which they sell the eggs. God knows what they make out of it.
I come here every morning, and spend all day working, and go back home after the sunset. I make nearly 100 rupees a day, it isn’t like the old days now. I thought of replacing this hand-driven wheel with an electric motor but I got scared that I might get an electric shock and die. This wheel suits me, serves the purpose. I can make all the tools used for farming and domestic work. I used to install hand-operated water pumps. I can’t install them now but I know how to fix them. So, people ask me if some repair service is needed. Life has become so easy now. It was so hard for us, we would go mad collecting wood all day. Even two meals a day was a big task.
Story: Gurdeep Dhaliwal
Edits: Jasdeep Singh