A Window onto the Road Sweepers’ World

Those builders hard at work just beyond my hotel room in Pondicherry weren’t the only slice of life I saw through my window there. The featured photo shows the view I had just after midnight every night (I told you I didn’t sleep), My camera – or the way I handled it anyway – wasn’t good at night-time vision, but I like the dream-like quality of this scene.

Can you see a group of five women – four of them in blue, seated in the road? Until just before I took this shot, they’d been busily sweeping all the streets round and about, equipped only with short brooms of the kind that witches in western fairy tales normally use . They made cheerful conversation, calling to each other so they could hear and be heard. Now though, it was time for a break, and the women simply sat down and rested in the road, their voices falling to a rippling murmur of chatter and laughter.

This intimate moment, sharing something with these women who were certainly unaware they were being observed, remains one of my treasured memories of India. These women, I’m sure, had little enough, and yet their easy relaxed movements suggested contentment with what their lives gave them. And above them is a washing line. All that day’s washing was blue, apparently.

Here are the windows through which I observed the scene.

Monday Window

Monday Washing Line

Author: margaret21

I'm retired and living in North Yorkshire, where I walk as often as I can, write, volunteer, and travel as often as I can.

33 thoughts on “A Window onto the Road Sweepers’ World”

      1. I think you have a very good point, Margaret….it’s not all about “keeping up with the Joneses”, if you’ve never been exposed to another type of life

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  1. Such an apt post for International Women’s Day reminding us that across the planet women often support themselves and contribute to their families with demanding, physical labour and yet they make the best of it.

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  2. You point about “enough” is very pertinent. I think that we can so easily spoil lives by trying to influence events by imposing Western standards. For example, if we stop children working for a pittance we then deprive the family of much needed income and take away part of the learning process for the community. A simplistic example I know but it goes very deep!

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    1. I can’t help but butt in here Peter. ALL children should be in education, not being exploited by often wealthy western companies or enslaved to unscrupulous owners to work for the pittance you mention, and certainly not to be exploited in dangerous occupations such as mines and brickyards, working with deadly chemicals from the age of five. So yes, we SHOULD put a stop to child labour and instead demand companies pay decent liveable wages to the adults in the families. It’s a disgrace in the 21st century that this still goes on. We don’t have to impose Western standards, but we do have a responsibility not to turn a blind eye.

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      1. I completely agree with you Jude. When women have a good education everyone benefits – it reduces child marriages, improves health outcomes, breaks the cycle of poverty and strengthens economies and communities. There is even evidence it helps tackle climate change.

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    2. Yes Peter, Jude – I feel quite conflicted about this. Who am I, who’s had the advantage of a good education to say that it doesn’t necessarily bring happiness too? I remember when we were in Kerala, finding that young people who’ve had some education no longer want to work the land. So they move to the cities, where they are able to compete for jobs such as call-centre workers … and the farms they leave behind have a problem. Maybe some of them do well, and make good lives for themselves. But I don’t see them as being necessarily being better off, cut off from their rural roots, however you define that. However, what Jude says is also true. Some children are working in abysmal and dangerous conditions in order for their families to survive. And for this to no longer happen is going to require profound social change, because as things stand, the money the children bring in, little as it is, is absolutely necessary to their families. It’s a deep-seated problem that there’s no easy answer to.

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      1. Sorry to introduce a little controversy Margaret. As I said, a simplistic example I know but it goes very deep! Simplistic was chosen deliberately (treating complex issues and problems as if they were much simpler than they really are). We British have been expert at that!


  3. A hard life for some in the developing world, but who is to say it is any worse than ours? Fast-paced, overburdened with technology, too much information, stress, money worries, high mortgages, job instability. Not everything is rosy.

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  4. Dream-like is exactly right.

    I won’t weigh in to Jude and Peter’s discussion as I’m of the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things” school of political economy, and I simply can’t be succinct.


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