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The Lost Generation

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Nidhi Dugar Kundalia

Once upon a time, Occupation was a very different word from what we today know it as. In India, you could be anything from a lamp-post lighter to a bhistiwallah (waterman) to a street dentist, ittarwallah or rudaali (professional mourner). In a rare archive of some of these dying professions of the yore, debut author Nidhi Dugar Kundalia explores the life of families involved in these jobs for generations, and what remains of their legacy. We get her to take us through this journey back in time.  

What inspired you to bring to light the dying professions of India through The Lost Generation?
As a child, I have spent a lot of time with my grandparents. I remember them talking about their own childhood—lamp-post lighters who would put off the gas operated lights on the streets at dawn while the bhistiwallahs or the men who carried water in animal skin bags, watered the streets in their village in Rajasthan. They would tell me about the barber and his wife (known as the nai and the nains) who were called in for massages in winters and the traditional midwives who worked with hot mud pots to ease labour. The rat catchers, the lamp-post lighters and the drummers who worked as human alarms at dawn for weary labourers living near factories. Them and numerous other such professions such as the bhistiwallahs, beedi makers, wigmakers, postman, wooden boatmakers, storytellers, letter writers, kabootarbaaz (pigeon fliers), Urdu calligraphers, street dentists, ittarwallahs—who were such an integral part of everyday life centuries ago, each with a social relevance that was more than just colourful tapestry in the fabric of our society. ‘All things must pass’—George Harrison had crooned once. With time, suns turn into ice, empires into dust, and species go nonexistent. And so must these professions. But as these things fade away from the world, it becomes necessary to document what will soon become history.  


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