Manhole covers are one of the rare infrastructure items in an urban setting to display the “Made in” line, which is often found on consumer goods like clothing and appliances.
Like Proustian madeleines, manhole covers with the huge, embossed “Made in India” writing serve as powerful illustrations of how cultural narratives are ingrained in our urban landscapes in the most unpredictable manner.
The International Women in Radio and Television Festival in Delhi featured a number of documentaries and fiction films, including Cast in India (2014) by Natasha Raheja.
The documentary Cast in India begins with a view of New York City’s recognisable sewage covers before moving on to one of the several foundries in Howrah, West Bengal, where they are made.
Raheja, a PhD candidate of Anthropology at the esteemed New York University at that time, noted that the film was shot over a number of days but that it has been edited to appear as though it takes place during a workday. The entire production process is shown from beginning to end.
The decision to outsource the manufacturing of the sewer covers to India had seen many debates ensue within the American society. According to sources, it was majorly done with the aim to save money.
Nearly 40 years ago, Indian businesses started supplying the US with manhole and sewage access covers. But recently, their business has multiplied because they now only charge a third of what US manufacturers do for the same work.
The majority of the 600,000 manhole covers in New York City and hundreds of thousands throughout the US are made in India. A sizable portion of that business is claimed by foundries in the Kolkata area.
Additionally, Indian suppliers provide sewer grates, water metres, and other castings to US municipalities. One of the main foundries for exporting manhole covers, Crescent, claims that its current exports are worth more than $4 million.
The Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees sewer cover operations in New York City, is under tremendous pressure to reduce prices without giving consideration to working conditions or safety standards. The documentary “Cast in India” investigates this matter with a series of intriguing questions.
For those of you who are interested in the documentary, here is the link to its trailer: Cast in India.
The documentary asks quite a number of important questions, for example, regarding the “disparate conditions of geographies” in the productions and consumption of “NYC manhole covers”. In the words of Raheja – “I also aim to point to the labour infrastructure otherwise concealed in the built infrastructure of New York City.”
In other news, American artist Michele Brody has launched a project called “Manhole Project” in which she models, creates and installs unique manhole covers that are inspired by historic structures. Her goal is to restore the “old world charm” with the help of her creations.
Image Credits: Google Images
Feature Image designed by Saudamini Seth
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This post is tagged under: New York City, india, USA, Los Angeles, kolkata, Howrah, West Bengal, manhole
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