Tongs are what I make. It’s been 40 years, I started in my early teens. Our father used to work as a farm labourer, usually helping with moving bales, we also followed him. But when the labour opportunities started to drop, we turned to making tongs. Even this seems futile now, I don’t see any growth here but I earn enough to cover my daily expenses and that’s what keeps me going. My business is almost enough for my family and their needs. Sometimes I think of leaving this behind and work as a rickshaw puller which seems a better option now.
Tong has three parts: a plane zinc strip, a clip and a ring. We get a bundle of Zinc strip, cut it into a proper length and width, fold it into a tong shape and then put the ring and a clip at the back so you could hang it anywhere you like, that’s all to it. We sell it for 12-15 rupees a piece, which gives us a return of 2-3 rupees. The buyers are shopkeepers usually, they buy in bulk and sell it for double the profit. They make all the money without investing the slightest effort. My life depends on the daily waged labour I do for others, this is just a part time work, to use the days I don’t get any job.
We labourers can’t think straight, there’s so much to worry about. We end up following whatever someone says. Years ago, someone told me about the tongs, I began making tongs, tomorrow if someone else comes along with a new suggestion I’ll turn to that. A well-off person has to take care of a lot of stuff, but for us all we ask allah is for the food in our house at the end of the day.
There’s no hope from the government. They want to take whatever little we have. Farmers get loans and they are bailed out, factory owners disappear with the money they are lent. But people like us who need some support, some investment to lift their business get no attention. My father took a loan of 4000 Rs. once. It’s been 35 years now and we have not been able to sort it out. I have vowed not to take money from a moneylender. Now, all my hope lies in my son. I pray he studies and gets a decent job to support the family.
Story and text by: Gurdeep Dhaliwal