“The hours are hard to pass by. Each minute feels like a day,” says Rabin Das, who worked as a forklift truck driver at the shut Ambassador factory.
Rabin Das, 53, wakes up at 7 am every day and steps out of his home after breakfast, his ritual for 32 years. But for the past two months, he has given up another ritual — walking hurriedly to the factory from where Ambassador cars once rolled out.
Das used to drive a forklift truck at the factory till May 24, when Hindustan Motors (HM) shut it down indefinitely. So, instead of rushing for work now, he ambles out of his 500-sq-ft flat, located in the same compound as the factory, and takes a leisurely walk in the lanes between the apartment buildings that house over 2,100 HM employees. As he bumps into former colleagues, the talk veers around to fond memories of working at the Amby factory and fears about what lies ahead.
Not one to sit at home, he wishes to walk further, but his family is worried about his health and wants him to rest. Two weeks after Das was given the suspension notice “out of the blue”, he suffered a stroke and has since been advised rest. “After my morning walk, the hours are hard to pass by. Each minute feels like a day,” he says.
At home, he watches TV and plays with his five-year-old grandson Soumyajit. Others in his family include wife Geeta Das, sons Bishwadeep and Krishnendu Das, and daughters-in-law Sonali and Sumita Das. He can often be found staring out of the window, as if waiting to hear the sound of the factory siren, indicating resumption of work.
His family tries to cheer him up by talking about little Soumyajit and how naughty he had become. “We make sure not to leave him alone, so that he doesn’t get depressed thinking of the factory. We console him by reminding him that we may be low on income now, but it’s commendable that the family is fighting it out together,” Geeta says.
The family, for close to a year, has been financially dependent on Bishwadeep, who works with a catering company, and Krishnendu, who is employed with a pharmacy. For six months before the Amby factory was shut, Das was not paid his salary of Rs 12,000 (he joined HM in 1983 at Rs 5,000 a month). His sons earn “paltry” amounts too, he says.
“We stopped eating fish long ago. Now we buy coarse rice and less food. We are afraid of medical emergencies as there is no financial support,” says Bishwadeep.
Around Rs 18,000 was spent to treat Das’s stroke, and Rs 70,000 more is needed for his pacemaker. “We have no idea how to get the money,” he says.
By evening, Das heads out to the homes of former colleagues. Over puffed rice and fritters, they talk about what the union members and ministers have been doing to try get the factory re-opened.
“I don’t know if I and the other workers would get provident fund and gratuity money,” says Das.
While some workers are despondent, others keep their hopes up. They relive old memories and laugh. “We don’t crib, we always talk positively, like how people are working to bring back the glorious days of Hind Motors when workers would work in three shifts, round the clock, to produce shiny Ambys. We know we are hoping against hope but we still hope,” Das says.