‘My dream is to find a job in Saudi Arabia’
Farukh Ahmed Khan, 23, crawls reluctantly off a flimsy mattress. It’s 7 am. His four roommates are still sleeping, on mattresses scattered across the 100-sq-ft room. But it’s Khan’s turn to cook today, and he must get started early if he is to get to work on time. Humaira Ansari writes.mumbai Updated: May 21, 2013 02:46 IST
Farukh Ahmed Khan, 23, crawls reluctantly off a flimsy mattress. It’s 7 am. His four roommates are still sleeping, on mattresses scattered across the 100-sq-ft room. But it’s Khan’s turn to cook today, and he must get started early if he is to get to work on time.
Still chewing his last morsel, he hurriedly empties 2 kg of rice and 1 kg of dal into two large aluminum thalis and settles down to sift the grain for stones. It will take three hours to cook this afternoon meal on the single kerosene stove.
“For dinner, I will make fresh dal and rice and maybe some potato sabzi, depending on how tired I am,” he says.
The cooking done by 10.15 am, Khan leaves the Bhendi Bazaar room for the 10-minute walk to Mohamadally Noorbhai, the 100-year-old mattress store in Bhendi Bazaar where he works.
Inside the shop, multi-hued sheets of foam and bright, printed mattress covers lie strewn across the floor and stacked in piles between the ceiling and the loft. Khan starts his day by gluing the sides of two soft foam sheets together, then sliding a sheet of harder foam between them, thus forming his first mattress of the day. A few feet away, an in-house tailor stitches its cover.
Once it’s done, Khan will slip the mattress in, then stitch the cover closed by hand, skills taught to him by his uncle after he first moved to Mumbai from Uttar Pradesh.
Khan makes about eight mattresses a day, each one taking about an hour to finish.
For lunch, at 2 pm, he walks home for some dal and rice with mango or lime pickle and, twice a week, some mutton or chicken gravy, followed by a 30-minute nap to rest his back after all the leaning and bending of the morning.
“It’s tiring, but I have to do my job right,” says Khan. “After seven years, I feel responsible for every mattress I make.” The eldest of eight siblings back home, Khan also needs the money, even if it is only Rs 6,500 a month.
“Everything has become so expensive that I really don’t know how long I will be able to survive in this city,” says the Class 5 dropout and son of a legal clerk and a homemaker. “But I have no choice. Our rice and wheat fields don’t yield enough to support the family, and there are no others jobs back home.”
His best bet now, he says, is to somehow get to Saudi Arabia. “Many boys from my village have gone there. I want to try my luck too,” says Khan. “I wouldn’t mind doing any odd job there, so long as it pays well.”
Back in Mumbai, his day ends at 6.30 pm, after which he heads home to cook dinner, or wait for it to be cooked. “We can’t afford a refrigerator, so we are forced to eat fresh, healthy and warm food,” he says, with a smirk.
On days when it is not his turn to cook, Khan walks around Bhendi Bazaar or rests in the room and chats with his roommates.
Before turning in at 11 pm, he always makes a call to his family. “I sleep well after talking to them,” he says, smiling.
(This weekly feature explores the lives of those unseen Mumbaiites essential to your day)