Barefoot, tramping in hot black sand, shirtless, gleaming with sweat, the ironworkers stand by with giant ladles to catch the molten iron spewing from the flaming furnace. The outside temperature may rise to 100 degrees. Inside, under the gritty tin-roofed foundry in India, employees endure the additional, intense heat radiating from the furnace. Hundreds of workers fetch the molten pig iron, pour it, un-mold it, chip, grind, brush, polish and paint the manhole covers destined for The USA.
In 1985 I dedicated one of my artworks to the Indian Ironworker. My friend, Dr. Harish Malhotra wrote out Indian Ironworker in Hindi for me. The symbol above it is pronounced as oooummm… It is an ancient word written in “Vedas”- Holy Books of Hindu teachings, principles and religion. Harish explained that it represents a “spiritual being” the ultimate God in which all spirits eventually merge and achieve NIRVANA. Nirvana is what all Hindus wish to achieve – as it means the end of cycles of Birth, various forms of Life and Death. Achieving Nirvana, is practically synonymous to merging with the “spiritual being.”
My design was cut out backwards on linoleum block. The partial cover design came from a chimney cover emblazoned with raised stars. The plate was inked brown. I added my own hand made paper and ran it through the press. It was an edition of only ten prints on hand made paper.
Since that time, several news articles have been written about The Indian Ironworker. “New York Manhole Covers, Forged Barefoot and Sweaty in India” by Heather Timmons and J Adam Huggins published in The New York Times, November 26, 2007 described the same working conditions. J Adam Huggins’ photos captured the scenes so graphically: barefoot workers perspiring amidst sparks and steam and molten iron while casting manhole covers.
By Bobbi Mastrangelo