Brick kilns are the places where basic units of our dream homes are produced. Everyday, lakhs of bricks are sold and transported across the length and breadth of Kashmir valley. Customers throng these brick plants to purchase their favourite brick brands. Since my house is under construction, so, very recently, I too visited a hub of brickkilns, located in Sholipora area of Budgam district. Carrying longings of a beautiful house in my eyes, I parked my vehicle on the margins of a vastly spread brickkiln, and straight away, headed towards manager's office to make a bargain.
On way to the manager's office, I had to combat adamantine mud and scary ditches because torrential rains had lashed the rugged area prior to my visit to it. So, I chose my way between the transit shelters of the non-local labourers who work here in these dusty, smoky and muddy factories of bricks. Though the monotony of soil was vividly visible on the surfaces of everything there, but some young-men residing in these havens were crooning so melodiously that the murky environs were filled with the kaleidoscopic colours of optimism and positivity. The young-men relaxing in these shelters were probably trying to assuage the pain, they were going through. One of them was warbling a famous Bollywood number. He had probably an acute nostalgic feeling because he was chanting: Chithi Ayee Hai, Watan Say Chithi Ayee Hai." (A letter has come, a letter has come from my homeland ). I could feel his emotions.
I had hardly gone past the first transit shelter which was nothing more than an arrangement of raw brick stacks in a rectangular form, covered with a layer of soothy tin sheets when a group of jolly looking but half-naked children with grubby hair, donning mucky and torn clothes , tanned skin and lean limbs caught my attention. They were either playing tip-cat or an indigenous game of their homeland because some of them were carrying willow made pegs and billets in their hands. They were shouting at each other in their native language. One or two of them rushed towards me and greeted me so meekly that I forgot my destiny for a while. I reciprocated warmly, and emptied my wallet with a hundred rupee note, and asked them to purchase their favourite candies from any nearby shop. Incognizant about the ebbs and flows of life ahead, the group of children ran towards the nearby shop to purchase their favourite candies and snacks.
A couple of women who might have been in their thirties but the extreme penury and poverty had stolen their beauty very early, asked me about my purpose of visiting the site of the plant. Meanwhile, a group of four to five middle-aged men joined them. One of the men in fumbling voice said to me, " Jinab, Yeh Bachay Rozana School Jaatay Hai'n." ( Sir, the children attend schools regularly ). They misinterpreted me as some official from labour and employment department who had come there to initiate action against them for the alleged involvement of their progeny in child labour because these people make their children to work in different processes of brick making. The women grew even more apprehensive when they looked at my car. The fear was brimming in their eyes.
Meanwhile, the group of children returned back from the nearby shop with snacks, chips and candies. Their parents tried their best to make them flee from the spot but their innocence didn't allow them to move about an inch from there. To the utter joy and satisfaction of their parents and elders, my brother called me up to the manager's office. I left the spot, but the wretched life and uncertain future of the children sent shivers down my spine. It continued to haunt me, and hundreds of questions flashed upon my mind. “What were you doing with those children?” My younger brother, who is not lesser than a friend to me, remarked indignantly.
The manager of the brickkiln took us inside the brickkiln where baked bricks were being loaded in tippers to ferry to different destinations. The colour, shape, intricacy and the sonorous sound produced by striking two bricks together, convinced me to choose the brick brand for my dream home. I transferred the requisite amount into the account of the brickkiln owner, and the manager told me that I shall receive my first consignment by that night or next day. I took a solitary brick with me because my mother had insisted me to bring home a sample of my bargain.
The brick I brought home won me appreciation from my mother and other family members for having been adept in my selection of brick brand, but the semi-red and fully dead cuboidal structure of baked clay, unrolled new but harsh realities of life before my eyes. The literal cost of the brick is mere rupees ten or eleven, but the never-realized dreams of innocent children buried deep inside the molded mud slabs, make them worth billions of dollars. Unfulfilled aspirations of iron-willed young people caged in these lifeless basic units of our houses, add colour of grit and determination to them. Beautiful but enshrouded longings and desires of young women are blazed in the burning hearths of brickkilns, and they emit through the sky-towering chimneys in the form of puffs of smoke.
Bricks shape and concretize our hopes and wishes into grand and splendid houses. We often look at our tall and beautiful homes with admiration and love, but hardly remember those who bake these small units of construction with their blood and sweat. The hidden melancholy, broken dreams, immeasurable pain, absolute pessimism and excruciating haplessness cemented in these bricks acquaints with those hard-workers who work so diligently and tirelessly that they never get a chance to explore life beyond their workplaces. We owe a great debt to them and their families. We can't end their plight but we can certainly demand adequate and handsome wages for them. And authorities must ensure easy access of their children to educational opportunities.
(Author is a Teacher and Rising Kashmir Columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com)