You are too young to have seen the coal operated buses. It happened in 1952 due to the shortage of petrol. They fixed a small steam engine behind every bus. It happened for a year. 100 rupees was all it was needed to become a partner of transportation company but even that was rare in those days. 12 Anne, 1 rupee was the daily wage. If I had that money then, life would have been very different now. Back then all one had was the few silver coins belted to the waist. In 1946, Britishers demonetized the silver. They asked everyone to submit the coins at Jalandhar, which most of us did. It was a big thing for us to see a 10 rupee note which is near to nothing these days.
Bunga was one of the first places where riots happened in 1947. Before that, there was a lot of Muslim population around here. All the meat and milk shops were owned by them. We could hear Muslims praying in Gunachaur which is nearly 7 kilometres from here. After ‘47, most of them left. When ‘84 happened I was in Calcutta, working as a carpenter in Tata company. My neighbour came to my house and started poking me to switch on the TV. ‘Do it yourself, I’m not strong enough to see it.’ I said. ‘Doesn’t it hurt you to see all these Sikh boys being killed by the government?’ he asked. Tears started to well up in my eyes, there was nothing we could have done? We didn’t go to the factory for a week. Even in Calcutta a lot of killings happened but all of us went to a gurudwara in time. An influential Sardar Ji came and sat there as our guard.
My father was a carpenter, We also spent all our lives working with wood. We were 5 brothers and a sister, she died very early. I am the eldest, I have two daughters. One of them lives with her husband in Phagwara and the other one stays with me here. I completed my metrics in 1951. All my education happened in Urdu. Punjabi took its place after the Muslims left for Pakistan. I got a job offer from railway department but my family said, ‘What? our son will work as a stoker in a steam engine? No, It will darken his skin.’ Then I went to Calcutta to work as a carpenter for Tata. While working there a chip of wood went into my eye and I had to get it operated. The doctor suggested me to get it removed, so the infection doesn’t affect the other eye. I got it removed then.
After the retirement, I came back to Banga, opened my own shop of woodworks. I tried making something new every time. I remember, I made so many folding chairs, folding tables, nobody did that around here. I also made Gadeera for kids, a typical Punjabi toy, simple yet so entertaining. I used to sell it so cheap, times have changed now, everything is so expensive. A pair of shoes cost 25 paise when I was little, get me a good one for under 2000 today. My monthly pay was 100 rupees and it was more than enough for us but now, even with 20,000 a month it’s hard. I’m 86 but I haven’t still shut down my workshop. Even now, if I’m feeling good, I go and sit there and make something out of the wood.
Story and Pictures: Gurdeep Dhaliwal