NOT ONLINE, I LEARNT IT ON-SITE!

A girl’s encounter with bars, straight edge and line dori. And priceless lessons from masters of the trade...

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Taking up a job in Bangalore? Why can’t you look for a job here? You have to get married soon! Oh My God! You will have to be at work sites! Their questions were endless. So were the ones in my mind. But, acceptance of the fact they won’t cease made it easier for me to come out of my comfort zone. New place, new people, new language! It was indeed exciting to explore a whole ’NEW’ world. And yeah, I had taken some real effort to learn the local language on my own and failed. Expecting to learn through communication, I quit my Kannada lessons from Google Guru and set off to Bangalore! My first day at the work site was quite funny indeed. And my communication with the workers provided non-stop entertainment for everyone around.

The first assignment for me was to go to the work spot and learn the names of structures constructed so far. The project was at the foundation stage with isolated and combined footings. All my technical knowledge was buried in the book shelf back at home. Naturally, my mind was brimming with questions.

How is a bar bent? How do you check the level? How do you set out footings? How do you check the verticality of shuttering? One by one the list of questions unfurled. Unfortunately, my language skills were limited to Malayalam and English. I could speak Tamil but the workers knew only Hindi and Kannada. The first day at work would give most of us a strong urge to learn everything and excel. Well, this urge prompted me not to give up.

I started using gestures to communicate which, for someone watching from far, would have
resembled a puppet show. But it worked. This is how one of the workers explained to me how a bar is bent: he took a bar, showed all his fingers to communicate that it was of 10mm dia, took the plan to show the places to bend and again touched the markings
in the bar and showed me the bar bending machine. Simple! When my boss assigned me the first task to supervise block work and plastering at the site, I honestly thought, ’Woah!…that’s easy, … give me a challenge, please!” Sad to say, it was not as easy as
I thought.

Language played villain again, but this time I could manage with a bit of Hindi. Each day, a target of 20 m2 wall was set, and I was asked to check the quality of material and the quality of work executed. Now, how do I check that? The cement, the sand and the water quality! It was not advisable but I had to ask the workers, “Bhayya yei keise check karega?'”He immediately showed me the batch number of the cement bag saying it has not expired. Then he took some to check if it had any lump, and after that he used a trowel to heap it and put in water to see if the cement settled down, proving its higher density. And he approved! “Madamji, yeh acha quality hey, okkaayyyy!!”  Now the sand: there were two piles which looked the same to me and I told them to get a sample from one, which was not the correct choice. I was again corrected by the workers who pointed out that what I took was used for in situ concrete mixing. The sand used for plastering was of finer quality preferably from 150 Microns to 600 Microns. The practical use of the nylon thread, line dori in local dialect, was completely alien to me until I watched them use it for checking the line without even leaving an mm space in between. It was exciting to see how the straight edge was effectively used to check if the plastering was even. They fixed it on a plastered surface and took a five rupee note and tried to pass it through but failed, showing an even surface. They also flashed a light from the other end to see if the straight edge blocked it. And of course, it did. All these measures were not part of the quality standards followed as per the IS Codes.

This is how thingsare handled in the most feasible way at site. When we are asked questions about how girls work at sites, it definitely conveys people’s apprehensions about their safety and comfort. Well it is certainly not a walk in the park! The days spent at the site taught me that.

Everyday had its own problems and we were left with no choice but to find a solution. The first job at the site showed me the hard work behind the construction of abuilding. It trained me in people management, and taught me valuable lessons in technical and practical aspects of an engineer’s work. Working at the site is an experience to be cherished, irrespective of your gender status.

A work site is a Gurukulam indeed.