Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Industrial City

On the way to our first stop, Sam explained to me that Jodhpur was one of the newer industrial towns in India and that the city had established a relatively new industrial area that was improving the local economy. I kept looking for large buildings and warehouses, but didn't see any. Eventually we left the hustle and bustle of the city and were on a narrow 2 lane road, hurtling through rock strewn barren fields occasionally inhabited by poorly constructed tents and tin shacks or the occasional herd of camels or stray cows. As usual, piles of garbage would appear intermittently, I could only assume someone had dumped them out here in the middle of nowhere.

Soon we turned off the main road and started seeing some signs of life. We were still cruising through the barren wasteland, except large gated areas began to appear regularly. We turned down a side road and suddenly there were a number of large brown buildings. Rocks and litter covered the road and our driver took it slowly with great care. We turned down a tiny street and stopped in front of a large metal gate.

"Are we here?", I asked.

"This is it", said Sam.

Part of my job is about factory safety and security and I had come to ensure that this factory was compliant with our many safety and security procedures as they had claimed. The gate opened and the guard there checked us in.

The front of the building was a mixture of brown and black, brown being the color of just about every building I saw in the city and black from the kiln drying process they used in the wood there. I was ushered into the office.

The office was a large room with a long table, a number of plastic chairs, piles of paperwork, a couple of telephones, and a single ceiling fan barely turning about 10 feet above my head. The temperature inside the office was barely cooler than outside - somewhere between 100-110 degrees. And the factory manager was in LONG SLEEVES. He was dripping with sweat, as were we, but it didn't seem to bother him. I was having a hard time understanding how anyone could work in heat like this, since there was no AC to be seen anywhere, but when in Rome......

We proceeded to take a tour of the "factory" which was basically giant open rooms with plenty of ventilation and fans in a desperate attempt to keep things cool while various teams of workers assembled furniture.

I would quickly find out the main work to be found in the "industrial area" of Jodhpur was indeed furniture manufacturing. In fact, there is nothing industrial about it, really. In the outskirts of the town, which is just barren rock and sand, they have thrown up large buildings, thrown some equipment in there for sawing and drying, and started making furniture. For a city like Jodhpur, that is real industry, and employs thousands of workers from neighboring villages who would have normally been unemployed and struggling to feed their families. Small furniture manufacturers is not what we in the Western World would consider big industry, but for these people it was a big deal.

We left that factory for another factory right down the street which also made furniture. Again, no AC. This office actually had a computer covered in dark spots from too many factory hands working the computer. I found it hard to believe that the computer didn't crash often from the incredible heat. Again, it was about 100 degrees INSIDE the office.

By this time it was around 4pm and we did not feel we would have enough time to finish the next factory before they closed so my buddy Sam decided to take me to one of the old markets in town, where people had been buying and selling for hundreds of years. I took a couple of pictures, one of them of the old tower that had been there for who knows how long. There were tons of shop owners trying to grab my arm and pull me into their shops, but Sam fended them off quickly. I eventually found a store with hand woven table cloths and table runners and bought one for my parents. The young gentleman who owned the store said he had a lot of American buyers. I expressed skepticism as it seemed that Jodhpur was not the hottest tourist destination in India, although I had seen a few tourists staying at my hotel. He said "no no, not tourists, eBay, eBay". He posts the items on eBay, shipping directly from India to the customers in the U.S. "I can make 2-3 times what you paid from eBay shoppers.", he proudly told me. "eBay buyers are the best because they often bid well beyond what we would already charge tourists and other foreign visitors." Other than a few nice fabric stores, the market was mostly for locals, selling fresh vegetables, grains, cooking utensils, etc. We decided to head back to the hotel.

By this time it was 8pm and I was dead tired, not having slept hardly at all the night before thanks to jet lag. They told me to take a shower and get some rest so we could go out to eat around 10pm, but I told them if I took a nap I wouldn't be getting up again, so they laughed and left me alone, agreeing to meet me at 8am sharp the next morning.

To be continued......

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