Le texte ...The power always goes out in the evening. At some point. The fans stop, the city darkens, the world becomes quieter. A deep sense of anticipation comes over me at that moment. Immediately, I brave my way up to the flat roof of the house where I have just been invited and wait. At some point the stream comes back, and you can see hundreds of lights lighting up everywhere in the streets and houses. At first restless, flickering, then calm and steady. Amazing, but no one rejoices. Just as no one was cursing before. The current comes and goes. That's how it is, that's how it will always be. Without this equanimity, I don't think they could live. Here in Pali, the town in Rajasthan on the edge of the Thar Desert.
The center of the village looks like a busy pigsty. Happy grunting among the parked rickshaws. Everyone is allowed to go there. The pigs are indulgent. Children, old people, cows, goats, and dogs also unabashedly defecate. In my hotel, a moldy shack right next to it, I have to pay 'Luxury Tax'. And diagonally opposite, a man sells 'V.I.P. luggage - to be seen with'. Everyday life in India. Pali lives as charmingly and drunkenly as a few thousand other cities. Nothing that irritates.
Ten minutes away from the piggish center, on the banks of the Bandi River, lies what the city has become famous for. And what sets it apart. Because it is beautiful and useful a million times. On the stones of the empty riverbed, eighty meters of fabric dry. Material for shirts, skirts and sarees. Freshly dyed with colors that everyone associates with this Maharajaland. Strong, glowing, sensual.

Fame has a short history. It was not until the early 60s that life came to the Malarianest. A bright head brings an idea and realises it, pulls up four walls, buys paints and gets started. The idea - dyeing fabrics and / or treating them with screen-printing techniques - booms. The number of inhabitants rises from 35,000 at that time to 140,000 today. Pali is the leader in India when it comes to saris made of cotton and treated by hand. For silk and synthetics, everything is missing. The expensive machines, the reliable electricity, the humid climate. The only textile factory on site does not produce saris. It is ugly and efficient, has nothing in common with the dubious charm of those almost thousand backyard factories.
Every evening I go to the station and look through the slot of the 'Complaint Box'. But no one ever complains about the railway. It is as capricious as the electricity supply. Again, no one curses. I have to reassure myself every day to better understand how Indian brains work, how patient they are with life. For what is to be described - the emergence of colourful, radiant saris - has dark, black downsides. Working conditions from the Middle Ages, pure barbering. For us. For them, no. That sounds so heretical, I know.
The cotton, the 'grey cloth', comes mainly from Bombay. In Pali, the cargo is transferred from the lorries to the company's own bullock carts. When the goods reach the 'unit', they go through various processes, depending on how they are treated. The most popular is 'screen printing'. In several tanks filled with water and chemicals, the grey cloth is cleaned, refined and bleached. Grey becomes snow-white. After drying - either by the river or on high bamboo scaffolds - the fabric is placed on forty-metre-long, one hundred and twenty-centimetre-wide tables. Now the sheets are printed in colour with the help of the 'sieve'. Several times, depending on the given design.
Further chemical processes follow. The colours should be washfast, the material should have a good grip and be soft at the same time. Finally, the finishing: trimming to the same width - between 105 and 115 centimetres - and ironing. Then cut to the ordered length - a saree measures between 4.5 and 7.5 metres. Finally, fold, pack, load onto the ox cart, cart to the shipper. That is the clinical theory. The practice is desolate, dirty, health-threatening, criminal, sometimes romantic, always Indian.
Two-thirds of all businesses in Pali are illegal. Because the government has imposed a construction freeze due to gigantic environmental destruction. It is difficult to describe the amount of red, yellow and blue coloured poisonous broths, mixed with ingredients such as sodium silicate, sodium chloride, sodium carbonate, caustic soda, starch, acetic acid and hydrochloric acid, that is emitted here every day. Exact figures are lacking. What can be experienced, however, is a slight shiver at the sight of the green-scaled surface of the earth that covers the surrounding area by the square kilometre.
Now there is an iron law in this country: every law only makes sense if it is exceeded, in other words, if it functions as a source of secondary income. A law that is obeyed is meaningless because no one pays to ignore it. In concrete terms: The construction freeze ensures that construction continues and at the same time bundles of rupees arrive in the private coffers of the responsible officials as 'hush money'.
Another law helps to collect corruption money: Any building, garage or tool shed - even if erected without permission - may only be demolished if there is a court order. Delaying this decision is for sale. So is its non-appearance. When one considers that the total turnover of the Pali-based textile industry is almost 1200 crore rupees, about eight hundred million marks, then everyone gets a faint idea of the sums that are quietly and discreetly seeping away here - fifteen percent is considered the minimum - like the deadly chemical brew.
Now, Pali has decided to take a small step towards hypocrisy and introduced a 'pollution control tax'. For every bale of material that crosses the city limits, 25 Rupees have to be paid. As an 'environmental protection tax'. To save for a second sewage treatment plant and to finance the running costs of the existing one.
A visit to the treatment mill, built in 1983, only opens up new horizons. A friend, let's call him Chandra, accompanies me. He works in a bank and also provides me with data on the status of the pollution control tax account. He rises, no (!) expenses. Of course not. The sewage treatment plant is practically empty, a few employees are loitering around, "the boss is back in Delhi". Instead of cleaning ten thousand gallons per day, as officially announced, most of the machines have been at a standstill for a fortnight, the gauges show zero, an inch-thick encrustation covers the first catch basin.
A real-life satire begins. A foreman leads us to the pool where the 'treated' water is collected. I have brought a pH paper with me and put it into the 'drinking water'. The paper turns green, so slightly alkaline, almost neutral. That wouldn't be bad if the sauce itself wasn't green and thick. So there is organic pollution, which the measuring paper does not show. A source for thirsty masochists.
Pali is India. The electricity disappears, the railways dawdle, sewer pipes burst, streets flood, the city degenerates into a rubbish heap. And there is no note in the complaint box. And all the days and nights I hang around the dye works thinking such western terms as exploitation and human drudgery, I meet no one who murmurs against it, who says "shit", who would disagree. Their fate is their merit, their karma, their 'fault'. So there is no reason to rebel. They are - here comes the heresy - simply happier. Definitely happier, calmer, more effortless. "Here in India," says Ajit, as he drags heavy buckets of paint and sweat pours down his neck, "we have very much easy life."
Those who work fast earn faster. None of them is unionised, there would not even be the possibility. If someone is wrong, it is the worker. Legal recourse is theoretically open, practically closed. None of the day labourers has the means to pay a lawyer and bribe the judge.
If someone employs more than ten workers, he is obliged as the owner to remit health insurance on a pro-rata basis. To avoid this, the books are cooked. Nevertheless, in the case of acute accidents, the entrepreneurs pay the treatment costs. This has become customary over time. Otherwise they pay nothing. "Pension? Continued payment of wages during sick leave?", I ask naively. Hardly anyone understands what I mean.
Their lack of expectations, their modesty seem to be of irrevocable endurance. Late, slowly after 8 pm, the work stops. Small fires are lit to cook aluminium, the same dinner every day. Potatoes prepared with chilli, garlic, oil and turmeric. Accompanied by roti, the home-baked bread. Water to drink. They laugh, doze, don't talk much, smoke a beedi afterwards, go out in front of the factory gate to the next board shack to sip a glass of chai. Long before midnight, it is quiet. They sleep on the roofs, between the bales of cloth in the warehouse, on the ground next to the fireplaces. Most of the men come from the surrounding villages. They do not return for months, as they also work on Saturdays and Sundays. Ajit describes it in the simplest terms: "No wife here, hard life".
At seven, the first people prepare breakfast. Alu again, plus Dei, fresh curd cheese brought by the milkman. An hour later, the daily routine of work begins. Mixing lyes and colours. Cleaning the screens and applying wax to make the fabric stick better to the long tables. Heating the oven for the ironing steam. Washing, bleaching, dyeing, climbing up the bamboo racks and hanging the wet sheets. Putting the yoke on the ox. The 'contact man', the middleman between boss and worker, unobtrusively organises the day's work. Smooth, long internalised routine.
Later, at noon and in the afternoon, when the fans fail and the heat under the corrugated iron roofs creeps up to almost fifty degrees Celsius at times, when men and eleven-year-olds stand in the colourful, ruinous sewage and with their bare hands take the poisonous powder labelled with a black skull and crossbones and a red warning sign - 'May cause cancer! - When they are bathed in sweat and turn the cranks of the dye presses and do not become melancholy and gloomy, but rather carefree and light-hearted, then the observer is overcome by the secret ulterior motive that he is registering conditions that he does not understand. And if he stayed a hundred years, he would not understand them.

Another cheerful epilogue. A kind of paean to the beautiful sarees made here and the beautiful women who wear them. A year ago, I was sitting in the Manila bar on the beach of Vasco da Gama. A port town in Goa, where sailors come ashore with shimmering skin and green tattoos. Real guys, hungry, decisive, generous. What made the day so extraordinary was the sight of Nasazumi, a sailor from Yokohama. He was talking fiercely to his sweetheart. I understood nothing and understood everything. Like everyone here. Because his nimble Japanese manly hands were busily fiddling with the girl's saree, helplessly searching for the beginning of this so simple, so mysterious garment . It was a real colourful evening. Nasazumi's feverish curiosity, his ignorance and need, the giggling Manila bar. Too bad I couldn't whisper anything to him then. Now I could, now I was in Pali.

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