5 - The Tenement
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 12 August 2022
Thousands of us form a daily mass demonstration of sleepy bodies, of multiplied insomnia, of dreams against the day, marching towards the machines. Having left the rural, being reluctant to arrive. At some point in time Kapashera – its thousands of backyards and rooms and roofs – might become a social borderline in struggle; a borderline between the certainties of a forlorn present and the collective desire to go beyond rural return or urban arrival, beyond push and pull.– Gurgaon Workers News, 2010
I moved into a tenement room on Kapashera in late 2014. My building formed part of a dense gridded matrix of four-storey tenement blocks that houses thousands of migrant workers – predominately migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar – who come to work on the garment export lines in Gurgaon's Udyog Vihar industrial estate on temporary contracts. My tenement awakes at 6 a.m., as Ashmita, the building pradhan, unlocks the front gates and switches on the whirring water pump, and a chorus of hissing pressure cookers and tinny radios call in the new day. At around 7:30 a.m. dreary, red-eyed young men amble through the front gate, exhausted from a long night shift in the industrial estate and collapse into their rooms, swapping out bed-space with roommates already taking their morning bucket shower at the rear side of the building. Soon the alleyways of Kapashera become choked with an army of workers, lunch boxes in hand, making the march toward the industrial estate. Labour contractors flank the main arteries flowing out of the tenements negotiating day rates and hours with workers before shoving them onto auto-rickshaws and into the sea of marching workers. This wave of workers that completely consumes the main road from Kapashera marches past the swanky farmhouses that occupy the Delhi–Gurgaon border, past the whisky shops where exhausted elderly workers lay drunk like roadside premonitions of industrial decay, and all the way up Peer Baba Road to the towering export houses in Gurgaon's Udyog Vihar (Figure 5.1).
Mornings in Kapashera are buzzing with activity. Freshly arrived workers – bundles of blankets and clothing in hand – alight at Kapashera bus stand and wander the alleyways in search of tenement rooms made available by workers who circulated away in the dead of the night.
- Subaltern FrontiersAgrarian City-Making in Gurgaon, pp. 215 - 263Publisher: Cambridge University PressPrint publication year: 2023