Abstract: “Cawnpore” (Kanpur) once hailed by India’s British colonial rulers as “Manchester of the East”, this dilapidated city in which I was born is nothing but shadow of its former industrial glory. Machines that stopped working cobwebbed doors of factories, depressing tales of unemployment and hunger and faces which forgot how to smile long ago. Now they call it an “Industrial Graveyard”. This project will explore the various facets of closure of Textile mills in the city of Kanpur, a city that came into existence during the Colonial period in India and was soon developed as a major Industrial center with Textile mills as its backbone. In the days of socialist planning (before 1991), the mills were kept on costly life support machines by the government. But no money was invested to modernize them. Decrepit and hopelessly uncompetitive, the mills were killed off by the market forces unleashed by 90’s liberalization drive. The affect of closure of the mills is across all layers of society. Closure of textile mills not only left the working class of the city jobless, but also ruled out any possibility of emergence of lower middle class in the city. My family which was involved in the cloth trade since 1907 has also suffered the burnt of the closure, and we are not alone, there are thousands like us.
In a city where machines roared day in and day out, chimneys never went cold, cycles filled the roads like anything, today there is calm. There is something uneasy about this calm. Nobody talks about the mills anymore. On the foot hold of changing times, probably, it’s time to talk about the mills. This research is geared towards a documentry film. I will try to comprehend history of Kanpur city and its mills through the stories that its people have to tell.
just posting the link to my blog where you all can read posts and I have also posted a few photographs, that would give you some idea of what the positions of mills are in Cawnpore.
(Joining the late postings club) apologies!
I am Maitrey Bajpai, one of the Sarai fellows this year, honored to be amongst great minds. Who am I? Ok. No PhD’s or degree’s in sociology. A plain commerce graduate. Like most of us,I was a just an average film buff, until I took my fascination a step forward and decided to learn filmmaking, so I packed my bags and came to Mumbai. After spending most of my childhood in a boarding school, when I returned to my hometown of “Cawnpore”, I noticed that these big red-brick ‘gothic’ structures (Textile Mills) which were once backbone of city’s economy are on a verge of collapse. Orders for closure Mills had already passed. The immature filmmaker in me got exited and wanted to use this as a first film platform. Well it had all the ingredients. There was downfall of industrial economy; there was a worker and owner conflict, politics, government involvement, hugely affected population, question about employment. As I started analyzing it and developed a sensitive approach, I saw the closure had led to a complete change in the socio-economic ethos of the city. Also there was history, of Mills, of people working in it, of families who had suffered the burnt of closure, and history of my family, what?? . Yup! My family was involved in the trade of cloth since 1907. My father was the last generation to run the family business, but we, my brother and I chose to opt for other avenues. More than anything else there were emotions, sufferings; a sense of failure, a feeling of being incapable to change with the times…it was about death of an industrial city. A story that needed to be told.
Woof! I know it was pretty exhausting, but think of a young (I am turning 23 this Feb) wannabe filmmaker, it was pretty exiting. One of the questions that instantly pop’s up is “what’s new about this” … this has happened in Mumbai, Ahemdabad and a whole lot of other cities around the world. That’s right it seems to have happened everywhere, and why not, change is inevitable. To me primary difference between any other city and “Cawnpore” is that, it is about my own city. The other difference is that most of other cities have been able to catch up with the times, say for Mumbai, it did not have time even to think about the change, it just changed. May be “Cawnpore” would also catch up with ‘globalization’ but that answer awaits in future’s womb.
My project for Sarai is titled “Cawnpore”
For those who don’t have a clue what “Cawnpore” is, a brief history:
“Kanhpur” a simple insignificant village in central Uttar Pradesh, passed into British hands under the treaty of 1801 with Nawab of ‘Oudh’. Soon ‘Kanhpur’ became an important military center for ‘East India Co.’. On March 24th 1803 ‘Kanhpur’ along with its neighboring villages was declared a District. They pronounced it “Cawnpore”. With the establishment of Railways in 1859, city developed into an economic center with textile mills at its center. The process of development continued, by 1920’s city had seven big mills. Due to this industrial development Cawnpore was termed as “Manchester of the East”. On 15th August 1947 India got its independence and so did the city of “Cawnpore”. The city which was nurtured by the colonial rulers came to its end and changed to “Kanpur”.
The question that’s tickling your mind is why “Cawnpore”, why not simply Kanpur? Well I have two reasons for it (1)because that’s the ‘word’ with which a cluster of villages was registered as a District and (2) that’s the city which has died, Kanpur is still very much alive.
THE MILL CLOSURE:
Signs of decay were clear as early as in the ’70s. In 1975, J.K. Manufacturers, a Singhania group company, was closed down. One of the reasons cited was the over involvement of trade unions. But as many as 1,500 workers lost their jobs. Increasing number of strikes and lowering profit margins gave an opportunity to the Mill owners to shift to other sectors, which had better returns.
After their closure, Government nationalized these sick units under National Textile Corporation (NTC) and British India Corporation (BIC) to save the poor from unemployment. In the days of socialist planning (before 1991), the mills were kept on costly life support machines by the government. But no money was invested to modernize them. Decrepit
and hopelessly uncompetitive, the mills were killed off by the market forces unleashed by 90’s liberalization drive.
Machines that stopped working cobwebbed doors of factories, depressing tales of unemployment and hunger and faces which forgot how to smile long ago. Once hailed by India’s British colonial rulers as “Manchester of the East”, this dilapidated city is nothing but shadow of its former industrial glory. Now they call it an “Industrial Graveyard”. Families like mine along with mill workers failed the test of time; it was our lack of ability to switch gears when it was
required the most. On the path of development, when an Economy shifts gears from ‘Manufacturing oriented to Service sector’ there is a large chunk of population that is unable to change itself. The affect of closure of the mills is across all layers of society. Closure of textile mills not only left the working class of the city jobless, but also ruled out any possibility of emergence of lower middle class in the city.
In a city where machines roared day in and day out, chimneys never went cold, cycles filled the roads like anything, today there is calm. There is something uneasy about this calm. Nobody talks about the mills anymore. On the foot hold of changing times, probably, it’s time to talk about the mills.
During the course of this research I wish to…
Study the history of ‘Cawnpore’, its existence, impact of the British Colonial rule and the development of cotton industry, evolution of the city and different economic scenarios that would help understand city’s relationship with the Textile mills and people who were integral part of the change. Understanding the various socio-political reasons for the closure of textile industry in “Cawnpore” will help calculate the affect of damage. Interactions with workers and
business families and an account their emotional experiences is the most important part of the research. An insight into my family history, which is in a way symbolic of the city, will help me draw parallels between city, mills and different periods in history. As this research is geared towards a documentary film, I hope this journey would help me weave various facets of my subject as I will try to comprehend history of “Cawnpore” city and its mills through the stories that its people have to tell.
Queries, suggestions and comments are welcome.
I have been issued permanent membership to the “late postings club”. I will try to deny alligations in the next posting. A few clarifications first, this Maitrey Bajpai is “HE”, and he is again extreamly sorry for being late on second posting. As for this post is concerned i have tried to dig into History of city of “Cawnpore”. this exersise has helped me understand the relation of Mills with its city.
Existence of Kanpur is a matter of controversy and will remain one for the future to solve. It’s interesting that no reference of Kanpur is found in the history, its two suburbs Bithoor and Jajmau can be found in history as far back as mythological periods.
The foundation of today’s Kanpur was laid in 1773, when Nawab of Awadh gave land of 12 villages (Patkapur, Kursawan, Sisamau, Juhi, Nawabganj, Jajmau & Rawatpur) surrounding Old Kanpur (Kohna) to the East India Company for keeping the Army. All these villages have history of their own ….
BITHOOR: it’s believed that, just after creating the universe, Lord Brahma performed the Ashvamedh Yajna (Horse Sacrifice) at Bithoor. Another mythological site at Bithoor is the Valmiki Ashram, where the famous sage Valmiki is supposed to have written the Sanskrit epic Ramayana. According to this epic, queen Seeta, on being exiled by King Ramachandra of Ayodhya, spent her days in seclusion at the ashram bringing up her twin sons Lava and Kush.
JAJMAU: It’s located on the eastern end of the city, considered to be the most ancient cities of the region. Excavations tend to prove that the site is very ancient indeed, Popular legends has it that the remains of an ancient fort belong to King Yayati of the Vedic age. It also houses temples of Buddhist period and Mosques of Mugal era.
SISAMAU: history suggests that in 1120, Raja of Annual ‘Govind Chandra’ donated a village to a Brahmin names Sahul Sharma which came to be known as SASAIMAU and later changed to SISAMAU.
PATKAPUR: Sisamau was divided, and out of which PATKAPUR got created …(“Patka” means division), it can be traced back to 1650.
OLD KANPUR (the village): A strong belief is that Kanpur is related to Mahabharat era and there are two interesting tales supporting this belief, some believe that the name is derived from KARNAPUR and is associated with Karna, one of the characters of the Mahabharata. Other’s claim that ear piercing of lord Krishna was done here.
Experts like Dr Munishwar Nigam feel that it’s too far fetched to be true.
In 1207 AD Raja Kanti Deo of Prayag who was attached to the throne of Kannauj established the village Kohna, which later came to be known as Kanpur. Books, Writers and Travel Historians of Mugal period ranging from 1024 to 1659 explain a great deal about region of Doab, its scenic beauty, about military operations carried out in the region and neighboring places like Jajmau and Bithoor, also places of Oudh province but remain silent on Kanpur.
One of popular beliefs is, about the Sikhs guru “GURU TEGBHADUR (9th)”. It’s said that in 1666 while going to Amritsar from Patna, on a request by a rich man he spent a night in his garden, this site is the famous gurudwara of chowk. Argument is, if it wasn’t a village or a place with population then why was the Rich man and his Garden there.
Reference of “Kanpur” is in Abbas Sarwani’s TARIKH-E-SHERSAHI about 1695, is doubted by the experts. They say this place was different place (KHANPUR) as the geographical and social description dose not match to our city. Mistake was made by “Prof Dawson” and “Henry Mires Elliot” while translating Sarwani’s book from Persian to English because they were unaware of geographical locations of India.
Another legend explains King of Sachendi “HINDU SINGH CHANDEL” (1668-1734), while going on NARWAL-JAJMAU route saw a beautiful piece of land, lay foundation of a village. This day was lord KRISHNA’S birthday (kanahiya aashthami), so the village got its name “Kanahiyapur”. Lot of people preferred calling it Kanhapur, which later got abbreviated to Kanhpur. Legend relates to last decade of 17th century…i.e. from 1691 to 1699, exacted by experts as 1698.
“CHATURESH” (1730) a poet from the court of Asothar’s king “Bhagwan Singh”, mentioned Gazipur and Kanhpur are distant at 30 Kos(60 miles) ………..it’s true even today.
The village of Kanhpur was shown in the first map of Doab 1770 as Cawnpour by a small dot.
History of which village should we consider as the existence of Kanpur, story of Lord Krishna or Karna’s tale, Sisamau’s development or Jajmau’s links with King Yayati, the story of Hindu Singh is also impressive. We don’t have enough proof to believe or disbelieve these tales, all these tales hold true in their own right. Mahabir Prasad Diwedi, Hindi literature laureate, about 1900 remarked “kanpur is yesterday’s child”, may be he was right, but it’s difficult to arrive on any conclusion, and the debate continues…..
“We all want to push the date of our existent city as far back into history as we can”, says Manoj Kapoor (Kanporium), “but since every piece of land is as old as the mother earth itself, the existence of individual pieces of land cannot form the date of existence of a city. That’s the only problem logic has”, further he explains, “Individual history of Punjab and Sind must be very old but Pakistan’s age is counted from the date of its inception………i.e. 14 august 1947.
In that sense Kanpur’s age should not be counted from its villages, but from the date it was declared a district i.e. 24 March 1803.
2. The British Invasion
Till the half of 18th century Kanpur remained a simple insignificant village. But, when, in 1765 British forces defeated Nawab “Suraj-u-Daula” near Jajmau……..its fate changed.
In the year 1773 Nawab of Awadh gave land of 12 villages (Patkapur, Kursawan, Sisamau, Juhi, Nawabganj, Jajmau & Rawatpur) nearing Kanhpur village (kohna) to East India Co. for establishment of Army camps. A small troop of army stayed here and with the treaty of Fayzabad (1775), British started establishing connections with the area. In 1776 Company opened its agency in the area.
This was a calculated move by the British as they realized the strategic importance of Cawnpore’s location. Situated in the region of Doab, between Ganga and Yamuna, Cawnpore was a major crossing point while traveling between Awadh and Bundelkhand or from Kannauj to Prayag. Trade could be easily carried on, from here, because of its location.
European businessmen had by this time gradually started establishing themselves in Cawnpore. In order to ensure protection, to their lives and property, the `Awadh local forces’ were shifted to Kanpur from Bilgram in 1778, this move also made it easy to keep an eye over the developments of Awadh and regions of upper Doab.
Army camped on the banks of Ganges. Villagers started connoting this area between Bithoor and Jajmau as “Campoo” as did Pratap Narain Mishr (1856-93) renowned Hindi poet. The area of Kanhpur village was called “Kohna” which was 2 miles from Campoo. In 1783 William Haj wrote that cantonment of a thousands of soilders is so big that soilders live in huts instead of tents.
Cawnpore passed into British hands under the treaty of 1801 with Nawab Saadat Ali Khan of Awadh. This forms a turning point in the history of Cawnpore. Soon Cawnpore became an important center of military for British India and on……….. 24 March 1803
“Cawnpore” (Kanpur) was declared a District.
The city of Cawnpore lies on the southern banks of Ganga, as trade in the early times was carrried on through rivers its significance emerged to British as they aquired it. Crowds were drawn towards the region from ancient times due to religious significance of Bithoor and from the period when Kannauj was the capital of northern india, before the Mugal invasion, Jajmau was a busy little area, as it was an important crossing point while travelling from Kannauj to Prayag. During the Mugal period, when capital base shifted to Agra it lost its glory for a short span of time, as trade and travel was carried through Yamuna. But it din’t took long for the Mugal’s to realise that it was also a major crossing point between Bundelkhand and Awadh and soon it became an important port of that era with a center for constructing and repairing boats.
With the development of Awadh our region also gradually started developing. By coming in touch with the British in 1773, establishment of Co. agency in 1776 and establishment of military camp in 1778, Trade, which was carried on in the region from ages, got the much required boost. People from nearby places started coming here to sell their products (galla, kirana, clothes, shoes, and neel) to the army or for employment. It was a major military station by now and became a district in 1803. Trade in the region benifitted from this as it became a safe proposition for the Entreprenure’s.
With the growth in population and increase in volume of trade, responsibility for establishing a fair and effective administration and building sound infrastructure also grew. British developed these facilities with great attention. They created mechanisim for collection of taxes and settling disputes. For this purpose Courts, Offices and Jails were constructed. Collector, judge and magistrates along with other officers were appointed. Schools college’s and technical institutes were built to preparing the future generation.
For facilitating commercial activities Banks, Post & telegram offices and telephone exchange was established along with creating new markets from time to time. No region can grow economically untill it has to have a good transportation network. Bridges and Canal’s were build, new roads like GT road were constructed, ancient Mugal road was renovated for the purpose. And in 1859 Railways gave the city a new dimension altogather.
This infrastructure development laid the foundation of Cawnpore’s industrial growth and transformed small peices of land into a city and then into a metropolitan.
Cawnpore’s economic growth was hampered by the events of 1857 but after that is development was phenomenal and it was mainly due to Railways. In 1859 first steam engine of East Indian Railway shuttled between Allahabad and Cawnpore. This was the real BIG leap towards Cawnpore’s industrial development.
The Railway’s which established their connection with the city were:
East Indian Railway : In 1845 Mr R.M.Stephenson proposed to build a railway line from Calcutta to Delhi via Kanpur. Mr Stephenon had ample faith that a railwayline running parellel to Ganga and Yamuna would be very useful to trade and commerce of the Region, but authorities declined it. After repetitive request’s in 1850 the Authorities agreed on construction of railwayline from Raniganj to Calcutta on a experimental basis. In in 1850 R.M.Stephenson started work on his ambitious project, 1854 First railway engine came to india, and on 15th august rail ran from Howra to Hoogli. By 1855 line was prepared till Raniganj & coal was sent to calcutta from there. It was a sucsess and Mr Stephenson was granted permission to build the complete project. Upper part of the project began from allahabad, but events of 1857 made the railway construction suffere losses of more than 40 lakh pound. Despite all this First engine steamed from Allahabd to Cawnpore on 3rd March 1859 and the whole project was completed in 1864. But due to no bridge on Yamuna of allahabad, direct connection was not possible from Delhi to Calcutta. The bridge was constructed in 1866.
Awadh Rohailkhand Railways came to the city in 1867, but due to no bridge on Ganga line ended on the left side of the ganga. After the construction of the bridge in 1875, direct connection was possible. Great Indian Peninisulan Railway came to Juhi in 1886 , this establised our connection with industrial capital of india….Bombay.
Bombay Baroda And Central Railways opned its line in 1892. Awadh & Tihiruth Railways (Old name: Bengal & North Western Railways) connected the city to upper Bihar. By establishment of Railways import and export the goods could be easily done. The area was also known as Cotton producing belt, cotton was exported from here but by river route it took a lot of time. During American Civil War demand of Indian cotton grew in the international markets, cotton produced by neighboring area’s like (Bundelkhand) was sent to Calcutta for exports via Cawnpore railways. During this period lanes of the city were filled with cotton bales, and officers had to make special arangements for the purpose. In the year 1907 the Ganga canal was flatened to make a huge godwon from Collecterganj to Juhi. But till this time each Railway had a different station, in 1930 on 27march a new station building was built and a new ware house was created at juhi.
Development of Railway gave a new dimension to the whole development process. It was only after this that the real Industrialisation kicked off. It connected Cawnpore with the top industrial cities like Calcutta, Delhi, Bombay, Ahemdabad, Karachi, Nagpur, Tatanagar and many of the Ports as well. East Indian Railways had its line into the mills also. Still its a big junction and many trains pass through it daily, without the establishment of Railway’s it wouldnt have been possible for Kanpur to get Industrialised.
The events of 1857 left the city in diplated condition and hammpered the progress of economic development. British lost their lives & business and moved out of the city, Indians also suffered from the events. But this setback could not contain the growth for long. With the support of infrastrural facilities like Postage, Roads, Canals and Railways the city got the required thrust, and it just started growing. There was establishment of Mills, Work Houses and Factories. Large numbers of people and families from the neighbouring states started pouring in, trade and population kept growing hand in hand at rapid pace. It brought prosperity to the city along with new challenges. To facilitate population and trade, proper market places and new roads etc. were constructed by the authorities. The Kanpur of today is a outcome of this era, which is remembered as the Golden Era of Cawnpore.
After 1857 the development of Cawnpore was even more phenomenal. Due to the events of 1857 Cawnpore became very important to the British & The Brithish Empire took the control from the East India Company. Inclusion of Awadh in the Empire (1856) was a major step towards growth, as Enterprenures, Merchants, Craftsmen, and Workers along with their families came to the city from Lucknow, and other neighbouring places, for business oppourtunities. Infrastructure development’s before 1857 and city’s location boosted the process of Industrial growth.
Trade of various goods was carried in this region from ages and with the establishment of a Distillery(1786)for the Army and Indigo Factory(1803) by the British near the city, early signs of economic growth were evident. Though there was a increase in commercial activities, development of this level had it’s limitations. The city was waiting for one big reason which would change it all and it did 1859, when the first steam engine of East Indian Railway shuttled between Allahabad and Cawnpore. This was a real BIG STEP towards Cawnpore’s industrial development.
Railway gave a whole new dimension to the development process. It connected Cawnpore with the top industrial cities like Calcutta, Delhi, Bombay, Ahemdabad, Karachi, Nagpur, Tatanagar and many of the Ports as well. Cotton from neighbouring places like Bundelkhand and Awadh was send to Calcutta for exports during the American Civil War. It also assured easy import of Raw material into the city and export of final produce from here. It also gave rise to Wholesale markets of the city which dealt in variety of goods. Soon new Warehouse, Godown and station building was constructed to facilitate the growth. Trade transport was never so easy and importance of Cawnpore never so high.
Waves of industrilisation reached the city in 1859, just after it was linked by railway. Government Harness and Saddalery factory was estabilished in 1860 to supply leather material to the army. Elgin Mill was the first cotton mill of the city established in 1864. Muir mill (cotton) being established in1876, follwed by Cawnpore Woolen mill(1876) and Cooper Allen & Co. in 1880. 1880 to 1900
Boosted by the American Civil War, city witnessed a flood of mills especially in the Cotton industry. With the establishment of Cawnpore Cotton mills (Elgin No.2)1882, New Victoria Mill1883 the city had 5 mills in all. Apart from cotton, Leather industry was also finding its ground with Cooper Allen & Co 1880, Northwest Tanning Co, Cawnpore Tanning Co and Tanning Leather Works etc being established around this period. British Government established Ordnance Factory & Parachute Factory 1886, to supplement their defence requirements.
Mr Gavin Sibald Jones is known as Father of Industrial Cawnpore for his contribution to the industrial scene of the city. He established two cotton mill, 1 woolen mill & 2 leather tannaries along with establishing a cycle company. Jones gave Kanpur’s production an international edge. He along with Mr Hugh Maxwell, was one of the pillars of Cawnpore’s Industrial development.
Names like Sir John Burney Allens, Mr William Cooper, Sir Alexander MacRobert, (JK) Singhania Family, Japuria Family and Sir J.P.Srivastava are also worth mentioning. Contribution of Indian worker’s and labourer’s who adapted to the new technology and worked hard during the testing times is inevitable in the development process. All these people along with the traditional business & trading families were responsible for the industrialisation of Cawnpore.
Infrastucture was also established to complment the growth. Post and Telegram Offices were opened, GT road and Ancient Mugal road was renovated. By 1879 district of Cawnpore had 29 post offices, in 1884 Cawnpore municipality came into existence and in the year 1891 Post Office, on request from the business class, had to open a small Magneto Exchange.
1900 to 1925
The process of Economic growth continued after 1900 as well. With Industrial & Infrastructural developments soon Cawnpore became one of the main centers of industrial revolution in India. In 1906 on the eve of Christmas city saw electricity for the First time. Swadeshi Cotton Mill 1911, Cocomy mills 1912. Hundreds of business units producing Soap, Flour, Hosiery & Chemicals were also established. The Period of First World War(1914-16) witnessed phenomenal growth. The War had opned new doors for development, with the demands of various products rising in the international markets the Business man cashed on the oppourtunity. After the First World War, Lala Kamlapat established a group of companies such as; J.K.Cotton Mills and J.K. Iron etc. under the banner of J.K. In the year 1920 British India Corporation (BIC) was formed with five companies. Cawnpore Textile Mills(1922) and Atherton west Mills (1923), The first re-rolling mill of India was established in 1928 by the Singh Enginnering Work. Lakshmi Ratan Cotton Mills were established in 1934. The Second World War gave fresh impetus to industrial complex. This was the time when Cawnpore was known as the Manchester of India. In 1925 an era in which British businessman established mills ended.
The Second phase of industrialization
During this era labour problems brought new angle to the industrialization. The Russian revolution(1917) had brought new light, affects of which were clearly evident on the city. Wave of Socialism and Communism were gaining ground. Uptill now labour struggle was not recognized and activities likewise were considered as unpatriotic. But labourer’s had serious problems, which deserved attention. The Second phase of Industrial developments began from 1925, on one hand entreprenure were finding way’s to maximise profits and on the other, thoughts like Humanity, Socialism and Independence were gaining ground.
On 17th July 1920 after numereous request’s “Kanpur Mazdoor Sabha” was registered. The Government of State in “Upper India Chamber of Commerce” required certain conditions to be fulfilled before recognition. Mr. Gavin Jones blamed that “unions are being led by people who are not workers themselves (eg. Ganesh shanler vidyarthi, Ganga sahai chaubey)” he said that “they are using this platform for achivement of their political purpose”. 15 July 1920 Vidyaar Khan said “Mazdoor are so much in numbers that if they leave the city, the city will b veeran (empty)”.
It became mandatory for the political leaders to talk about the workers because of their sheer numbers. The period and circumstances also forced them to follow in footsteps of Gandhi who was mobilising the masses in the same fashion. The whole uprising aandolan was based on two issues. One was Britisher’s v/s Indians & the other was Owner’s v/s Workers.
This lead to numereous stikes on demands of good working conditions and increment in wages. Due to these strikes British lost
their interest in Cawnpore, they started extracting profit as much as they could, which left no finace for mordernisation. They left the business to the disposal of Indian Businessman, who supported them for maximum benefits in minimun time. As a result in 1924-38 many Indians took control of the business & started rising. JK OIL, Cawnpore Chemicals, Swar Plastic, Heavy Chemicals & Machinery part factories were est. JK Hosiery, JK Jute, P Sugar Mills, Singh Engg, JK Cotton , Laxmiratan Cotton, JK Iron & Maheshwari Jute mill were established.
The Freedom Struggle
In 1942 Quit India Movement started, Govenment policies were exploitive and political leaders of all ideologies were being send to jail, except the Communist who were against the movement. As a result Unions and workers were taken over by Communist. This move hampered the unity amongst the workers as they got divided. Soon fragmentations on the basis of cast, creed, and region started forming and number of Unions started rising. The people coming in the city (refugees) played a vital role, the original concept of Quality was changed and business like transport was taken up by them. Practices like Black marketing, fraud, duplication of products, and exploitation for maximum benifts, all started in this period. On one hand it led to creation of an enviornment against commercialisation & British in particular on the other it boosted thoughts like Socialism and Communism.
On 15th August 1947 India got its independence and so did the city of “Cawnpore”, which was nurtured by the colonial rulers, came to its end and died only to reborn as “Kanpur”.
6. Rise of Cotton Industry In Cawnpore
Cotton was grown and spun in this region of northern India, since times imemorial. With Humid wheather, Long summers, Heavy seasonal rains and fertile tract of Doab, irrigated by rivers like Ganga and Yamuna, farmers of the region produced some of the finest cotton in the country. This cotton was spun by hundred’s of “charkha’s” in villages. Soon trade of cotton began flourishing in the area of Cawnpore (village Kanhpur) as it was situated on the banks of Ganga, which made movement of goods and people easily possible. Religious significance of Ganga & Bithoor also helped in growth of trade, as they had attracted people from far off places since ages.
In those times every family had a spinning wheel and people engaged in the occupation of spinning cotton were grouped under a special cast known as “dhuniyian” or “bahena’s”. This spun cotton was used for making clothes and farming of Indigo developed parellel occupation of dyeing the cotton cloth. Significantly large portion of population was engaged in growing, spinning, dyeing and trading Cotton.
>From the time it came under British influence the growth of cotton trade had stagnated, but the volume of trade was still big. Infact this was one of the reasons, amongst many others, which promted British to develope Cawnpore and by 1803 it was declared a district. As per records old cloth market of Generalganj was existent even before 1840. According to “Statical Report of District of Cawnpore” published in 1848 by District Magistrate Mr. Robert Montegomry, “main economic activities in the city were cotton trade and money lending, by this time city had almost 50 private banks”. From 1801 to 1857 development of infrastructure was undertaken by the British and a social setup like collection of taxes etc was also established, due to which a city started being born out of villages. This development laid foundation for Cawnpore’s bright industrial future which kicked off with the development of Railways in 1859.
During American Civil War there was acute shortage of raw cotton in the international markets which resulted in increasing demand of Indian cotton. In this period cotton produced by neighbouring area’s like (Bundelkhand etc.) was sent to Calcutta for exports via Cawnpore through railways. People say “lanes of the city were filled with cotton bales, and officers had to make special arangements for the purpose”. British business man soon realised the economic advantage of the city. Factor’s like Land, Labour, Capital, Raw material were easily available and British entreprenures were quick to combine them into production houses.
Realising the oppourchunity a group of people came togather and formed Cawnpore Cotton Commitee in 1960, this organisation gave the city it’s first ever cotton mill. It the year 1862 it began construction Elgin Mills, which was completed in 1864. This was a gigantic step towards industrial growth, which changed fortune of Cawnpore forever. Volume of trade in the city started increasing and by 1866 new market places like “Cooperganj” were established, which dealt in wholesale trade of cotton. Soon other British businessman started coming to the city. In 1869 a farmer from England Mr. Hugh Maxwell came to Cawnpore. He purchased Elgin Mill in 1771 and appointed Mr. Gavin Sibald Jones as its Manager.
Under the control of Gavin Jones, Elgin Mill grew leaps and bounds. He left Elgin Mill in 1874 only to establish Muir Cotton Mills in the same year and Cawnpore Cotton Mills in 1876. He gave the city an industrial edge by improving quality of production & taking it to the international markets. Jones took great care of his workers, provided them with healty working conditions and constructed labour colonies for them. In the later years he also established leather and cycle companies. Regarded as one of pillars of industrial growth & for his contribution towards the city he is also known as “Father of Industrial Cawnpore”.
As per Governments records & statical reports, growth in trade between 1847-77 was several hundered percents. In the year 1875 goods worth 50 lakh pounds was exported from here and goods worth 34lakh pounds was imported into the city. With openinng of Cawnpore Cotton mills & New Victoria mills in 1882 & 1886 the total number of mills in the city reached 5. Cawnpore became one of the main centers of industrial revolution in the country. This growth countinued its momentum after twentith century (1900) as well.
Mr. Harmison established Swadeshi Cotton Mills in 1911, at that time this was the biggest mill in India. The Period of First World War(1914-16) witnessed phenomenal growth. The War had opned new doors for development, with the demands of various products rising in the international markets the mills of Cawnpore started working round the clock. Cashing on the oppourtunity, Businessman of Cawnpore earned huge profits. After the First World War, Lala Kamlapat established J.K.Cotton Mills. In the year 1920 British India Corporation (BIC) was formed with five companies. Cawnpore Textile Mills(1922) and Atherton west Mills (1923) were also established.
7. In 1925 an era in which British businessman made mills ended
The Social thing
During this era labour problems brought new angle to the industrialization. Affects of Russian revolution(1917) were clearly evident on the city. Wave of Socialism and Communism had hit the city strongly. Untill now labour struggle was not recognized and activities likewise were considered as unpatriotic. But labourer’s had serious problems, which deserved attention. The Second phase of Industrial developments began from 1925, on one hand entreprenure were finding way’s to maximise profits and on the other, thoughts like Humanity, Socialism and Independence were gaining ground.
On 17th July 1920 after numereous request’s “Kanpur Mazdoor Sabha” was registered but the Government of State in “Upper India Chamber of Commerce” required certain conditions to be fulfilled before recognition. Mr. Gavin Jones blamed that “unions are being led by people who are not workers themselves (eg. Ganesh shanler vidyarthi, Ganga sahai chaubey)” he said that “they are using this platform for achiving their political goals”. This was true to a extent, infact it had become mandatory for the them to talk about the workers because of their sheer numbers. On 15 July 1920 Vidyaar Khan said “The number of Mazdoor’s is so huge that if they leave the city, the city will be veeran (empty)”. Circumstances also forced them to follow in footsteps of Gandhi, who was mobilising masses of Ahemdabad in the same fashion. The whole uprising aandolan was presented by these leaders on two level’s…………….. Britisher’s v/s Indians………. & …………….Owner’s v/s Workers.
Numereous stikes on demands of good working conditions, increment in wages and independence were staged. Due to these strikes Cawnpore started losing it’s industrial charm & British lost their interest in the city. Some of them started pulling back their share of capital and sniffing the indian independence, the remaining also started extracting as much profit as they could. They drained the mills, and left the business to the disposal of Indian Businessman, who supported them for maximum benefits in minimun time. As a result in 1924-38 many Indians took control of the business & started rising. People like Sir J.P.srivastava, Japuria Group & JK group overtook the existing mills and established new one’s like JK Cotton Manufacturing Ltd (1933) & Laxmiratan Cotton Mill (1934). But all this process left the mills with virtually no money for technical upgradation. By 1935 : 14 Cotton mills were in the city, with 455136 spindles & 8019 looms. On an average 30118 workers were working here. 19030 bales of Raw Cotton weighing 784 pounds were consumed everyday.
8. The Freedom Struggle
In 1942 Quit India Movement started, Govenment policies were exploitive and political leaders of all ideologies were being send to jail, except the Communist who were against the movement. As a result Unions and workers were taken over by Communist. This move hampered the unity amongst the workers as they got divided. Soon fragmentations on the basis of cast, creed, and region started forming and number of Unions started rising. Workers also participated in the freedom struggle.
Congress’s swadeshi andolan also gave boost to the cotton industry and local consumer started depending on the mills for cotton “Dhoti’s and Sarees”. The events of Second World War also gave, the much required thrust to cotton industry of Cawnpore. During the war period demand for a lot of war products had increased, and entreprenures of the city cashed in on the oppourtunity. They earned huge profits by supplying the demands of war, and Mills were never more profitable. In 1943 city had 17 mills, 534500 spindles & 10000 looms with 44480 permanent workers working daily. These mills consumed 176982 ‘kandi’s’ of cotton everyday.
1947: 4TH ALL INDIA COTTON SUMMIT was held in kanpur, all 3 previous events were hosted by Bombay. Many aspects related to the growth of twxtile industry were discussed & delegates from all over the nation came here. The mills kept working but by now mainly indians owned the industries built by British. With getting Independence on 15th august 1947 the mill developed further.
The people coming in the city (refugees) played a vital role, the original concept of Quality was changed and business like transport was taken up by them. Practices like Black marketing, fraud, duplication of products, and exploitation for maximum benifts, all started in this period. On one hand it led to creation of an enviornment against commercialisation & British in particular on the other it boosted thoughts like Socialism and Communism.
Within a period of 7 months (september 1 to march 31) cotton Mills in Cawnpore consumed 131651 bales of cotton, which was only after Bombay and Ahemdabad, and no city in north india even came closer. In the whole country 1978995 bales were consumed (wheight of each bale was 400 pd). Total 585179 pound of foreign cotton was consumed in the country out of which 37806 was consumed by kanpur.
According to a book “kanpur kaa itihaas” written by Narain prasad Arora & Laxmikant Tripathi in 1958 : city has 17 mills out of which 15 were in the main city, and Kanpur was a major center of cotton production in india. They wrote “The city has grown at a tremendeous pace in the last 10 years, consumption of cotton has increased by 62% since 1935 and 50% workers have increased by then. Most of the workers of cotton mills mainly come from the farming belt of nearer places, with permanent residents only accounting for 20% of total working population. 98.74% of these workers were males as females were mainly engaged in picking up “goodar”. Out of the total population 70-80% of workers were Hindu. Labour colonies like macrobertganj colony made by cawnpore woolen mills & allen ganj another colony hold most of these workers. Government was also planning to construct more colonies by 1954.”
Writer’s of the book predicted a healthy future for the Textile Industrry of the city, whose backbone were its Mills. They wrote “the future of textile industry looks good & so dose the future of the city”. According to the book India at that moment was one of the largest Cotton manufactureres of the world. It was ranked 5th in number of cotton spindles and 3rd in consumption and labour. Out of the total cloth produced in the country, 16% was made in Kanpur.
9. The Mills:
1861 Kanpur cotton committee was formed
1862 Elgin Mill
1874 Muir mill
1876 Cawnpore woolen mills
1882 Cawnpore cotton mills (cooperganj)
1886 New Victoria.
1911 Swadesi cotton mills juhi
1912 Kanpur Cotton Mills co. KAKOMI (juhi)
1921 JK cotton spinning n weaving mills co.ltd (kalpi road )
1921 Atherton west n co. ltd (gt road)
1933 JK cotton manufacturing ltd (kalpi road)
1934 Laxmiratan cotton mills co. ltd (kalpi road )
Kanpur textile ltd (cooperganj)
The city of Cawnpore came into existence from merging of several villages, each village had a small population and limited commercial movement. But since the time it came under British influence (1773), commercial activities in the area increased, rise in population was evident. East India Co. established a agency here in 1776,and british businessman started coming to the area. Later in 1778 forces from Bilgram were shifted here to protect their lives and business, and after that people from all classes started pouring in, Businessman came because it was safe and the city gauranteed easy connections to other business places , artisans, traders and labour started coming to sell their products to the army (eatables, shoes,clothing etc…) and in search of employment.
The trade & population kept growing, a city started being born out of village and in 1803 Cawnpore was declared a district.
No formal account of population exist till 1846, but first data regarding population of Cawnpore is found in Robert Montegomory’s “Statical Report of Cawnpore” in 1847. According to the report population of Civilian area was 58821 and Cantonment was 49975 ( excluding europeans and soilders).
As per UN Demographical year book Cawnpore was amongst the 300 hundered cities of the world having population more than 1 Lakh.
Population Chart Of Cawnpore City
Year Area population difference in decade percentage difference
1865 113,601 (it was lower due to massive bloodshed of 1857)
1891 194048 23.00
1901 22.37 202797 4.5
1911 22.37 178557 24240 11.95 (many people died and left the city due to plauge)
1921 22.37 216436 37879 21.21
1931 36.68 243755 27319 12.62
1941 36.86 487324 243569 99.92
1951 92.34 705383 218059 44.75
1961 296.66 971062 265679 37.66
1971 298.98 1275242 304180 31.32
1981 298.98 1639064 363822 28.53
1991 298.98 2029889 390825 23.84
An interesting point is that such a massive increase in population was not supported by the high “Birth rate”. Infact as per a
Government report dated 31st March 1944 number of children born was ‘11691’ and number of people died was ‘14379’, which
shows Death rate was more than Birth rate, so Growth rate of the city was negative. But the population kept exploding a alarming
This was majorly due to coming of large number of workers and pesants from nearby places and nehibouring states, after the
begenning of industrial development in 1860, American civil war and the two World Wars, opened new doors for development and
city saw opening of one mill after another. Incoming Labourers were cheap and proved to be a boon to the industry.
An estimate made in 1912, (done for water, power and other municipal reasons), shows that after 50 years(till 1962) Kanpur’s
population will be 2.5 lakhs. But till 1947 it was 8,79,419 .
Average rise in percentage increase of population in 1931-41 was almost 100% in the city. When compared to other cities of UP, this was huge, in Lucknow it was 41%, Agra 23.6%, Allahabad 41.4%, Banaras 28%. The data
in the table shows that population doubled in 10 years (1931-41) and it took just five more years to double itself again (1941-47).
Population density per sq mile in 1931 was 24754 i.e 39 person/ acre and in 1958 it was 71360 i.e 111.5 person/acre.
Population : 1991 Census-24.18 Lakhs and as per 2001 Census:27.72 Lakhs (Male : 14.83 Lakhs, Female : 12.89 Lakhs)
Queries, suggestions and comments are welcome.
I am once again sorry…Oh! Leave it. I know it dose not make a difference, the fact is my postings got delayed big time and i am the one responsible for it. Anyways the work on my film is going on with slow pace (reasons unexplained). As of now I am in ‘Cawnpore’ trying to figure out a lot of things.
I shot with my family during this short trip of a week; still a lot has to be done. I still hope I would be able to get in touch with some of the other business and worker’s families on my next trip. I could not use this trip the way i wanted to but i was successful getting some insights about my own family.
Conversations with Mother…
It was hot and humid. Must be around 8:15 in the morning. I was having my cup of coffee; my mother (I still call her “Maa”) was busy with
newspapers and her cup of tea. I don’t know why, but I just asked her what dose she thinks of the film I am planning to make. We started talking. I just kept my cup on trhe floor and rushed to get my handy-cam. Here is the first part of transcript of that conversation we had. Interestingly it brought out her experiences, issues and her opinion about the city, family and Mills.
Apart from being my mother she is…
1. Resident of the city
2. Daughter of a freedom fighter
3. Wife of a businessman
4. A businesswoman
5. And mother of my brother as well
Before the transcript of the interview, a little background about my mother. Born “Usha Shukla in 1954, in a middle class brahmin “Shukla” family, she was the youngest in the family with two elder brothers and a elder sister. She is still very proud of her father being a freedom fighter. All brother and sisters had their mothers influence (as I think all of us have). As children they all were persuaded to study hard as it would help them in making a decent living. The family owned a sweet shop in the traditional “khoya Bazaar” (old area of the city majorly filled with wholesale shops). They lived in a joint family, with their “Chacha’s” family (Paternal Uncle). Even after splitting they all are really close today.
Maa: Wait let me get ready, what everyone will say, your mother knows nothing.
Me: Its ok!
Maa: One day your kids will see this, what will they say:
“was our grandmother an idiot”. I dont want to make a fool out of myself.
Me: Maa why are you reading my questionnaire, that’s for me.
Maa: why not? I can read it. I am 1954 born and I am still there, I understand.
After some hiccups we started…
Me: How was it like growing up in the city, your growing years?
Maa: What do you mean growing years?
Me: What was city like when you were growing up, what was the Ethos at that time.
Maa: It was different then, like, trees on the both sides of guarded streets you see. Parrots and birds chirped all day. My mother woke me up by saying birds are up its time you also get up from bed. Now people don’t talk much, now even neighbors don’t talk. Earlier people were happy, you could see people talking to each other in the morning. You could see children playing and sleeping in the mornings. Now you see children in uniform and parents running to leave them. Earlier children were lazy and playful.
Me: So what do you remember of mills.
Maa: ya! We use to go to schools walking and we saw hundreds of mill workers on their cycle. It always was like this, simultaneous children on foot, workers on cycle. City was lively. Live was lively …”raunak thi”. Not like today, where all you find is dead faces, fearful faces, and ‘yellow’ faces. Workers Tiffin’s had food in it. They ate together, they talked together…they lived together.
Now I get news from T.V channels, earlier there was exchange of thoughts. Shops in neighborhood had every thing of need, there weren’t big malls. Not even many schools, children from all classes studied together. (Upper class/Middle Class/ Lower Class). As I remember there was not much discrimination. Nowadays the gap is bigger than ever before, gap between people, even in families.
Maa: I started my education in a municipal school (Gyan Bharti inter college) it was ok
In 9th I took science and started with English medium, that was a big achievement for me because I studied “A, B, C” in 6 standard for the first time. I got good marks in class 12th so I got admitted to Christ Church college, it was considered to be one of the best at that time. I had good circle of friends. They belonged to every class (economic & social), but I never felt complexed, as children of today.
Me: What was your family status?
Maa: You could call us middle class. We ate good food. We dint spend much on clothing. Even as kids we were not very concerned about our clothing. We just studied. My Mother was very concerned for our studies. As my father was a freedom fighter, so he was not very involved in the family, but my mother was also very committed for nationalist vision. She wore khadi throughout her life. Both my parents were not money minded. My father died when I was in class X.
Me: As your father was freedom fighter do you remember any political happening at that point?
Maa: No! No! By the time I was born we were an independent nation
Me: Even then city would have been politically active.
Maa: at that time ‘politicians were politicians’ we did not had any problems.
Me: City’s politics had a big role of mill workers.
Maa: it all started after independence, “mill baji” started. Power was misused after independence, unions were a big problem, and even then ethos was not polluted.
After knowing each other for several years your father and I got married in 1979.
Me: So it was Love Marriage
Maa: ya you could call it so, but both our families agreed.
Maa: Your grandfather had died 2 years before our marriage, so Papa (my father) had to join the family business.
Me: So he joined family business because of crisis
Maa: Yes it was not something he wanted to do, one of the reasons for joining the business was because his academic qualification was not that great, and so under the circumstances he was bound to do that.
Me: What do you know about family business, this cloth shop.
Maa: I knew your father’s family even before marriage. They were rich bunch. Cloth trade was at its boom and Papa’s family made most of it. Your grandfather was very academic but he was not very involved in social causes like my father but he was religious. Otherwise most of Papa’s family was loyal to British, they were awarded with titles like Rai Bahadur etc.
Me: Ya! I know my grandfather was rich, I have heard those stories about his horses and bungalow.
Maa: yes he was definitely rich. He earned a lot of money and he lived a lavish life. At that point he was very successful and he moved with the Top people of the city. But had sincerely earned that status and money. Your grandfather was only 14 when his father died. They lost a lot of money in business due to your great grandfather’s death.
Me: This means my great grand father was also very rich!
Maa: Actually they came to the city from “Unnao” (an outskiting village of kanpur) due to some rivalry with the local people. They bought a lot of money along with them. They started trading cloth. At that point very few people were involved in the cloth trade. With time they established a good name in the market. But due to consistent early deaths in the family, each generation had to start from ground zero. With every death in the family things went back to square one. Your grandfather lost everything when his father died, similarly Papa had to start all over again after his father’s death.
Maa: He changed the trend, started dealing with Private mills. Mills here had already collapsed, so he had to change.
Me: Was this the reason Papa switched to Private mills?
Maa: Look; earlier buyers/ purchasers came to us —to Cawnpore–because of the mills,(Manufacturing sectors are assumed to be cheaper) they traded with mills & the local market. Now when the mills collapsed they turned to big cities and private mills.
Slowly trend changed, more and more people started trading with private mills, we also had to do it. When Papa took agencies of Private mills, now he and others like him had to go to buyers to sell his product. When they started going out they, their changed lifestyle
City started loosing its flavor, comparison from bigger cities started bothering.
“Bahar ye hai…. Bahar who hai”…suddenly city started looking small.
The number of unemployed workers kept rising in the city. This helped the small-scale industries to grow. But with this development city had to pay its price, all sorts of problems started…electricity, pollution, exploitation of labor and resources, corruption and red tapism flourished.
Today’s politicians don’t work, the political scene changed so rapidly that, and no eyebrows were raised when government switched from committed to selfish. Now a day’s patriotism is a joke, nobody cares anymore. Places like ‘phoolbagh’ (old meeting ground for politicians) where people use to meet for debates and there was a very rich library. Suddenly things changed… students use to go there May be it’s because of the computer age, but the computer change was also not that swift in Uttar Pradesh. We left what we had but we failed to adapt to the new system.
Me: When papa started this Private dealership, was it intentional that he wanted to expand his business, did he ever had any plans??
Maa: when mills collapsed people from outside came to us and said
“Ab ye kapda bechiye” (now sell this cloth), and it was obvious and practical thing to do. But due to that we now had to go to door to door and sell our products. Buyers just stopped coming to the city. A major factor that changed the way business was conducted was change in payment pattern. Earlier when buyers came to us they brought money (cash), now we were going to their door to sell, so we had to offer them discounts, schemes and worse we had to give them credit.
Trade, which was prestigious, was now short of credibility. Earlier when they came they said you are doing a great favor to us by selling goods to us, now they said if I buy from u what will I get. The newly established credit system worsens the working conditions.
Me: When did papa started dealing with Private mills?
Maa: around 1980 just after our marriage
Me: Before marriage did he had plans to switch the trend.
Maa: No! No! When his father was handling the business, he purchased cloth from local mills and sold it. Production had stopped when I was in class 12th but there was stock. At one point there was ‘Rationing of cloth’, cloth came from outside. Then mills started manufacturing cloth in the city and Cawnpore became a big business center.
At a point I think there were 36 big mills so during that period your grandfather made a lot of money. Your father had never thought of career, so after his fathers death he had no option, and once he joined he changed the trend.
End of Part I.
I just presented this random conversation as it is. I request you to forgive me for transcripting it in a formal maner. But i have my reasons for it. 1. I dont know how to do that and 2. I thought it might dilute the essence of this conversation.
In future posting i plan post some other transcripts of interviews of other members of the family.
IN THE LINE OF FIRE
Vivek Pradhan wasn’t a happy man. Even the plush comfort of the First Class air-conditioned compartment of the Shatabdi Express couldn’t cool his frayed nerves. He was the Project Manager and still not entitled to air travel. It was not the prestige he sought, he had tried to reason with the admin guy, it was the savings in time. A
PM had so many things to do! He opened his case and took out the laptop, determined to put the time to some good use.
“Are you from the software industry sir,” the man beside him was staring appreciatively at the laptop.
Vivek glanced briefly and mumbled in affirmation, handling the laptop now with exaggerated care and importance as if it were an expensive car.
“You people have brought so much advancement to the country sir. Today everything is getting computerized.”
‘Thanks,” smiled Vivek, turning around to give the man a detailed look. He always found it difficult to resist appreciation. The man was young and stocky like a sportsman. He looked simple and strangely out of place in that little lap of luxury like a small town boy in a prep school. He probably was a Railway sportsman making the most of his free traveling pass.
“You people always amaze me,” the man continued, “You sit in an office and write something on a computer and it does so many big things outside.”
Vivek smiled deprecatingly. Naivety demanded reasoning not anger.
“It is not as simple as that my friend. It is not just a question of writing a few lines. There is a lot of process that goes behind it.” For a moment he was tempted to explain the entire Software Development Lifecycle but restrained himself to a single statement. “It is complex, very complex.”
“It has to be. No wonder you people are so highly paid,” came the reply. This was not turning out as Vivek had thought. A hint of belligerence came into his so far affable, persuasive tone.
“Everyone just sees the money. No one sees the amount of hard work we have to put in.” “Hard work!”
“Indians have such a narrow concept of hard work. Just because we sit in an air-conditioned office doesn’t mean our brows don’t sweat. You exercise the muscle; we exercise the mind and believe me that is no less taxing.”
He had the man where he wanted him and it was time to drive home the point. “Let me give you an example.
Take this train. The entire railway reservation system is computerized. You can book a train ticket between any two stations from any of the hundreds of computerized booking centers across the country. Thousands of transactions accessing a single database at a given time; concurrency, data integrity, locking, data security. Do you understand the complexity in designing and coding such a system?”
The man was stuck with amazement, like a child at a planetarium. This was something big and beyond his imagination.
“You design and code such things.”
“I used to,” Vivek paused for effect, “But now I am the project manager,”
“Oh!” sighed the man, as if the storm had passed over, “so your life is easy now.”
It was like being told the fire was better than the frying pan. The man had to be given a feel of the heat.
“Oh come on, does life ever get easy as you go up the ladder. Responsibility only brings more work. Design and coding! That is the easier part. Now I don’t do it, but I am responsible for it and believe me, that is far more stressful. My job is to get the work done in time and with the highest quality. And to tell you about the pressures!
There is the customer at one end always changing his requirements, the user wanting something else and your boss always expecting you to have finished it yesterday.”
Vivek paused in his diatribe, his belligerence fading with self-realisation. What he had said was not merely the outburst of a wronged man, it was the truth. And one need not get angry while defending the truth.
“My friend,” he concluded triumphantly, “you don’t know what it is to be in the line of fire.”
The man sat back in his chair, his eyes closed as if in realization.
When he spoke after sometime, it was with a calm certainty that surprised Vivek.
“I know sir, I know what it is to be in the line of fire,” He was staring blankly as if no passenger, no train existed, just a vast expanse of time.
“There were 30 of us when we were ordered to capture Point 4875 in the cover of the night. The enemy was firing from the top. There was no knowing where the next bullet was going to come from and for whom. In the morning when we finally hoisted the tricolor at the top only 4 of us were alive.”
“You are a…”
“I am Subedar Sushant from the 13 J&K Rifles on duty at Peak 4875 in Kargil. They tell me I have completed my term and can opt for a land assignment. But tell me sir, can one give up duty just because it makes life easier.
On the dawn of that capture one of my colleagues lay injured in the snow, open to enemy fire while we were hiding behind a bunker. It was my job to go and fetch that soldier to safety. But my captain refused me permission and went ahead himself. He said that the first pledge he had taken as a Gentleman Cadet was to put the safety and welfare of the nation foremost followed by the safety and welfare of the men he commanded. His own personal safety came last, always and every time. He was killed as he shielded that soldier into the bunker.
Every morning now as I stand guard I can see him taking all those bullets, which were actually meant for me. I know sir, I know what it is to be in the line of fire.”
Vivek looked at him in disbelief not sure of his reply. Abruptly he switched off the laptop. It seemed trivial, even insulting to edit a word document in the presence of a man for whom valor and duty was a daily part of life; a valor and sense of duty which he had so far attributed only to epical heroes.
The train slowed down as it pulled into the station and Subedar Sushant picked up his bags to alight.
“It was nice meeting you sir.” Vivek fumbled with the handshake. This was the hand that had climbed mountains, pressed the trigger and hoisted the tricolor.
Suddenly as if by impulse he stood at attention, and his right hand went up in an impromptu salute. It was the least he felt he could do for the country.
PS: The incident he narrates during the capture of Peak 4875 is a true life incident during the Kargil war. Major Batra sacrificed his life while trying to save one of the men he commanded, as victory was within sight. For this and his various other acts of bravery he was awarded the Param Vir Chakra – the nation’s highest military award.
Live humbly, there are great people around us.