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Steeling themselves on the road for generations

Kavita Kishore
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Rajasthani blacksmiths have spent a few years in the South

Forging a futureThe travelling blacksmiths are trying their best to cope with the changing times in Mamallapuram, but say that they are fine the way they are— Photo: T. Singravelou
Forging a futureThe travelling blacksmiths are trying their best to cope with the changing times in Mamallapuram, but say that they are fine the way they are— Photo: T. Singravelou

Just near the entrance to Mamallapuram, close to the ticket-collection booth, a group of people wearing worn-out lehengas, kurtas and dhotis have camped out with all their belongings.

There is a small stone fire off the side of the road, where a bunch of them are grouped and their children are playing in one corner.

To one side, there are a group of iron implements, including axe heads and sickles that have been laid out on a white cloth, presumably for sale. Near the fire, the sparks rise as one of the men starts forging some iron.

These people are blacksmiths from Rajasthan and they have spent the last few years in South India to ply their trade. They buy scrap metal from the local stores and craft them into different kinds of weapons and tools.

They have been on the road for generations and not much has changed in the past few decades for them, they said.

The children of these families have never been sent to school and many of them do not know any language for several years. Once it seems like they are strong enough, they start manning the bellows to help with the forging.

This is considered to be a task for women and children, one of the members of the group, Chandan, explains.

Since they never spend more than a few months in one area, they never send their children to school.

“It is easier for them to stay with us and they learn whatever they need to on the job. They will never change their profession, so it is better of them this way,” he says.

The smaller villages are better for their trade, since the local farmers have a lot of use for their implements. The sales, however, have been poor now with the decline in agriculture so they had been forced to travel even more.

The raw materials were also getting much more expensive, but they have somehow managed to get by.

They are trying their best to cope with the changing times, but they are perfectly fine the way they are, Chandan says.

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