Do our Work Conditions Affect Us?
How many of you work at home or go to an office? Unless you live in a cold country, there is a strong possibility you have an air-conditioned office. Sometimes work conditions are easy, and at other times they are difficult. When I came to work in Delhi in 1987, I shared a desk with another gentleman. He was a grand chap, but we always scrambled for desk space. We didn’t have air conditioning those days. Instead, we had a desert cooler, and it was often difficult to hear ourselves above the sound of the cooler. My heat tolerance is low, so I used my seniority to insist on my chair being next to the cooler.
My Time in Consumer Sales
I worked in consumer sales for several years and often went to the market with my sales representatives. The two of us traveled around using their scooters, with me perched on the back seat, without a helmet. I learned not to buy white shirts: they always became grey.
One day, my sales representative–Vinod Khanna–and I sat in a cheap restaurant, gobbling chicken biryani. I don’t know how I survived without getting food poisoning–I put it down to the miracle of nature. Halfway through our respective plates of biryani, he looked up and said, “Boss, we sales guys are lucky. We always work in an air-conditioned environment.” I responded with a dumb, “Eh?” Then, he explained his thesis.
Those weren’t his precise words, but I assume you get the gist of what he said. Our work conditions affect us more than we realize. Mine, for instance, influenced my choice of color. In addition, I invested in smuggled tubes of face scrub. I never forgot the conversation.
The Tough Work Conditions of These Women
When I photographed these vendors, I did not consider their work conditions. When I noticed the older woman in red, I just saw the vibrant colors of her sari and the car’s color. Her calm demeanor struck me as she sorted her greens. Her aspect was peaceful and dignified.
The other lady seemed tense, almost grumpy. Her facial expression fascinated me, and I wondered why she appeared angry.
Years later, the Covid pandemic spread through the world. I did not have much to do those days because I could not get the UPS of my computer repaired. So, I read many articles on my iPad. Articled from publications like The Economist, or firms like McKinsey, flooded my iPad. The brilliant thinkers extolled ‘the death of the office’ and the ‘birth of remote work.’ Some called it The Great Reset and spoke of how downtown office spaces in large cities would become empty. Of course, nothing like this happened. When they realized that office blocks were not emptying, they spoke of the birth of hybrid work. Work conditions in the office, they said, were no longer conducive to productive work.
Soon enough, we will be back in the office.
There is a change
However, there has been one change: the number of delivery boys and girls has increased. Vendors are back on the street. Their work conditions remain awful, but no one thinks about them. I am going to repeat – no one cares about their work conditions. Most of them remain cogs in the machine.
In the last weeks, I have been back to the streets, talking to people and photographing them. There is one common refrain they all share. “We would never be here unless we had no choice. How else will we support our families, feed them, and educate our children?”