The Black Rock


Update for week ended 22 October 2010

Mangal had stopped his drill to wipe that sweat off his brow. The stifling heat and moisture coupled with the dust was irritating him. The poor lighting and almost claustrophobic feel of his workplace was not something he liked, but he had no choice. Just like the 32 others with him, this was the only job he had and it paid him decently. So what if his work kept him away from his family for a week at a stretch, and the working conditions were far from comfortable. Unlike his brother, who had to work as a domestic help in Delhi kothi, a bungalow in swanky West End, and earn a pittance, he at least had a guaranteed job and could meet his family every week. Mangal had a new incentive to keep working in these dark depths – his company seniors had made an offer of selling shares in their company to him and his other colleagues. Mangal did not understand anything about shares and finance, except that his salary was good enough to support his family, send his children to school, and also leave some money aside for contingencies and savings. Mangal did not realize that his drill was still running when he dropped it to the floor, and it let out a grating noise followed by a loud crack. Before anyone could react, there was an explosion and water was gushing in from somewhere. The dust had not settled down, as all the miners felt their feet turning cold and wet and the water level was rising fast. Mangal yelled out to Vijay, the shift supervisor and the only one who knew how to operate the wireless set. There was panic, as everyone rushed towards the shaft for escape. But this was not easy, as the tunnel was only about 23 feet wide and wound its way up and down for about 200 meters. And so the 33 of them rushed to the highest ground available within the depths of the earth – 2300 feet below MSL. Vijay’s walkie talkie crackled and in his baritone voice yelled S.O.S. and the second blast that occurred that moment shook the ground so violently that his walkie talkie fell out of his hand and down a few metres to quickly submerge in the rising waters.

The D Street Boyz were very busy – many of them had barely gone home the last week as frenzied activity akin to mining kept them at work for really long hours. And on Monday, as they picked up their tools of trade and worked frenziedly in their claustrophobic cubicles, they had little time to think about their families. But when one of the D Boyz paused midway during the day to wipe that sweat off his brow, he accidentally dropped his phone receiver onto his trading terminal keyboard. And before anyone could do anything, the D Street markets got into a tizzy – as the SENSEX lost about 400 points on Tuesday. The tremors that shook the D Boyz off their seats were rumoured to have been because of some hectic black activity on the primary markets, not on D Street. The Boyz were afraid that they would lose their sheen and ran to safe havens. Wednesday was a day to heave a sigh of relief as the coal dust was settling well as Foreign Boyz brought more money during the week than they had all year. That cheered the D Boyz and it felt like coal turned to gold – black gold. But no-one even thought of the poor Mangal, Vijay and the 31 miners stranded below the earth. SENSEX continued to be the D Boyz’ pet staying above 20,000 at 20165 – about 40 points up since last week.

Everyone looked to Vijay to lead them out of this place. He was the only one who had raised voice for the miners against the mine owners. It was thanks to him that their children’s school got a teacher, and their colony a doctor and a primary health centre. The salary assurances were also thanks to him. But Vijay was panicking. He had been in a similar situation like this many years ago. And then, too, like today, he had 30 odd people who looked to him for help. But he was helpless then – all perished, except him. He carried that guilt with him and he shuddered with fear that history was about to repeat itself……

That is the story of this week. Have a safe weekend.

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