In the heart of darkness
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Blasting at 24!" shouts Amit as his silhouette settles languidly on haunches. His warning is relayed by others along other tunnels. "Blasting at 24!" Amit shouts again, as a football player would call out to a teammate at the other end of the pitch, mid-action.
This time, he did not wait for the warning to go a full circle. Maybe he was bored of it all and wanted to surprise everyone. Maybe he was, as someone had described him earlier, merely "a really fast worker."
Then comes the blast. On their haunches and away from the dislodged lumps, the miners stare into the darkness, soaking in a day's work. "No point going in now. Let the dust settle," murmurs someone.
At the beginning of the incline into a colliery that forms part of the 63 active mines of Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL) in the Jharia coalfields in Jharkhand's Dhanbad district, Amit is going through his Monday morning blues.
He is still goofing around with co-workers at 9 a.m. outside the mine when the senior overman for the shift asks him about the explosives. "This is your job. Don't forget that this is our bread. At least keep your equipment safe," he says in Bhojpuri, more chide than warning.
So, at nine, an hour after his shift was scheduled to begin, Amit trudges back in search of his gelignite sticks and detonator. Shy smile intact.
"He's a kid. He joined only a year-and-a half ago. We all keep advising him to get married. Then he will be more careful with his life, and ours," says Dilip Mandal, threading his leather belt through the loops of his headlamp's lead-acid battery.
There are no uniforms here. Miners get to take their hard hats and shoes given by their company, BCCL, home. Headlamp batteries are recharged at a BCCL facility at the colliery. Only a few miners wear protective gloves. Some even go shirtless. Amit, who finds the canvas shoes with protective metal caps given by BCCL "uncomfortable", wears a pair of cheap leather shoes to work. Madhu Bhuiyan, on the other hand, has bought gumboots for Rs 350 after he found out that, "the BCCL shoes are useless as we go deeper. The water seeps in."
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