A man usually digs up the salt and loads it into a large aluminium basin. The basin goes on top of a woman’s head. She unloads it into the back of a tractor. A new pile of salt is waiting within seconds. The basin is loaded, lifted, placed on top of the head and unloaded into the truck again. The same routine continues on and on, and on...
The work of the labourers begins before sunrise. There’s a quota that each team has to fill. The workday stops only when it’s too hot and too bright from the sun reflecting off of the salt.
The work is hard. As is the case with much hard labour, it’s aimed at the poor and the uneducated. I overheard the salt field contractor telling Hardik "Education - nuttee" which from Gujarati literally translates to "Education - nothing". I can still hear those words.
The conditions are incredibly basic. I've rarely seen the uniforms and safety equipment amongst Indian labourers – things that are mandatory in the West. I'm of the opinion that countries like Australia are over-policed and over-regulated, to a point where adults are treated like infants. I guess these are two extremes. At the end of the day though, it sure is nice to have a pair of work-boots.
Sometimes entire families spend their day at the salt fields. There’s little chance their children will have an education and better opportunities. The cycle will likely continue.
I made a remark to Deepti (an Indian photographer who joined us for a while) that India must have the highest number of beautiful labourers in the world. So many potential Bollywood stars are toiling away in jobs most of us would hope to never do in our lives.
This girl was particularly beautiful and charismatic. She was curious too, and when you meet curious people in difficult situations, you can't help but wonder "What if?" What if she had a chance for education? What if some Bollywood scout came and offered her a role in a film? How different could her life path be?
She was amused that Deepti didn't have any wrinkles on her face. With a job that requires constant exposure to the sun, women around her age early. The two girls chatted for a while. Deepti let her take some photos with her camera, which she enjoyed immensely. She couldn’t have been more than 16.
The tractor driver generally pumps out some distorted, but very up-lifting music from the speakers. It seems to encourage the workers. The driver of this tractor mostly played songs from old Bollywood films. Hardik appreciated this a lot and joined the driver for a duet a couple of times.
Those beautiful pools of water aren't something to swim in. We were told that they're toxic. I still can't stop being amazed at the views that the drone opens up.
I often ask my self “Why do I photograph these kinds of situations? The manual labourers like these salt workers, like the people at the sugarcane farm and those at Diu fishing harbour?”
Some of us privileged few who have access to internet, education, medicine and running water like to say that we need to be reminded of how lucky we are. Maybe that’s a part of it, but I feel like I don’t need reminders about that.
The main reason I photograph these people is my immense admiration and respect for them. They remind me how lucky I am not because I have what they don’t, but because I have a chance to meet people like them. They remind me of what so many in my world are losing – dignity, humility, hospitality, an appreciation for simple things.
In my world charlatans, assholes and parasites to the society amass huge social media followings or run for political office. But my world still doesn’t function without the humble, manual labourer. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the computers we use – manual labourers, often working in horrible conditions have contributed to our commodities.
Over the years I've shot various indigenous groups. Many of them are marginalised, like the labourers in these images. Some still don’t have equal opportunities to education. But, every now and then I receive an email from a young person saying that they're from the same ethnic group I've photographed. They tell me they appreciate that I’ve given them a chance to glance at their culture, to see how they once were.
Perhaps one day the children of these kinds of labourers will have a chance at an education. Perhaps they'll be far removed from the world of their parents and images like mine will be the only reminder of their roots, a life that once was.
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I'd be posting these photo diaries even if no one was looking at them. They're a personal record of my journeys. However, I've always believed that photographs truly become "alive" only when they have an audience.
I enjoy sharing my journeys through images and short stories. If you enjoy looking at them, please spread the word. Help the photographs come to life and share them via whatever social media channels you use. Thanks!