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Still, it?s a job

My PA pressed on the phone buzzer. When I took the call, a female voice from a call centre offered me a free credit card from a foreign bank.

india Updated: Feb 07, 2006 00:24 IST

My PA pressed on the phone buzzer. When I took the call, a female voice from a call centre offered me a free credit card from a foreign bank. I had one already, but it involved an annual fee. So, eager to save some money, I accepted the offer. Two hours later, a lanky youth of about 20, clad in jeans and a shirt, dropped in at my office.

He was in a hurry. He quickly filled in the necessary forms and took my signatures. As we waited for some documents to be photocopied, I offered him a cup of tea and asked whether he was an employee of the bank. He replied in the negative, adding that he worked for a private agency.

Obviously, the bank had outsourced this work. I asked about his salary. He told me it was Rs 2,000 a month and a commission, on per card basis, amounting to about Rs 500.

It occurred to me that this was probably the minimum wage of a construction worker in Gujarat. When I mentioned this, he said he realised this but did not mind since he was still studying for his B.Com.

Probing further, I learnt that he came from a poor family. He attended college in the morning and worked for his employers the rest of the day. He followed a gruelling schedule, six days of the week, which started at 7 am and ended at 11 pm.

Today, thousands of such youngsters work for hospitals, clinics, restaurants and shopping malls for long hours at low wages in various Indian cities. They are the new sweatshop workers, the unorganised labour — entirely at the mercy of the market.

Then, I looked at the brighter side. Yes, they may not be organised and may have no right to strike, like the airport workers did recently. But they, at least, have a job. A job, however small and ill-paying, that gives them dignity, assurance, independence and hope. It gives them a feeling of worth in society.

As he sipped his tea, I, unconsciously, recalled the protagonist of a recent film on kidnappings in Bihar, who runs from pillar to post for a job. Unable to find one, he takes to crime and becomes a professional kidnapper.

As this young boy put his cup down, my thoughts returned to him. I regretted asking his personal details. It had made him conscious. I did not know how to make amends. But as he got up to leave, I noticed something about his grim face.

I asked, “Have your friends told that you resemble Ajay Devgan?” His face broke into the disarming smile as he replied, “Yes sir, many people have told me this. Thanks!” And he left.

First Published: Feb 07, 2006 00:24 IST