The Furnace Keeps Their Hearth Burning

Ignoring the ups and downs of life, blacksmiths of a village in Dhenkanal carry forward their work with a mission, writes Dillip Kumar Pradhan

Toiling with fire and metals not only has given them their bread and butter but has also brought them an identity. No matter how arduous it might be for them, but artisans of Kalana village under Gondia block in Dhenkanal district have taken it up as a challenge and have proved their prowess of metal making abilities.

Be it spine chilling winter or scorching summer, these blacksmiths work hard all through the year to earn their livelihood.

Irrespective of gender and age, be it a newlywed woman or a 50-year old lady or school goer, all get engaged in making household articles, hardware material and construction equipment by melting and bending the strong wrought iron metals.

Both male and female members of each household share their labor and even children also take part in the work as trainees after their school time.
The fire, with which they melt metals and make household items, sometimes give them a tough time when their small huts, where they work day and night, catches fire.

“During such fiery disaster, family maintenance becomes a quite herculean task for us. But still, we have never given it up”, Madhab Kamar, a blacksmith, said.

Even though they have approached local representatives several times to make concrete houses for their work, but their appeal fell only to the deaf ears.

“They (leaders) only appear in our village during election time. We receive ‘moon and star’ promises from them during that time”, Prasant Maharana, another blacksmith said.

Answering to a query on why do they engage children in the hard work, a septuagenarian Madhab quickly added, “If they (kids) do not excel in academic line, our hereditary occupation would help them in future. No matter whether they would accept it as profession, but who can take away the inner skill within them?

People, especially the farming community, of nearby areas depend on these artisans for making agriculture apparatus as the village is most popular for blacksmith plant.

dkp1However, the blacksmiths have never relied on local customers for family maintenance. “Any work comes from the locality bear our pocket expenditure only”, Sukanti, a lady blacksmith said.

However, the main source of income is to manufacture hardware and building materials and export them to outside the district. “We tour to Cuttack once or twice in a month to sell the products at wholesale market. During onward journey, we bring the raw materials from scrap dealers in city’s Jobra, Jagatpur and Manguli industrial areas. For which, we collectively hire a vehicle for journey to the millennium city”, said a young artisan Deepak Maharana, who also drives a mini truck on contract basis as part time profession.

With the ravages of time, these artisans are facing acute scarcity of wood coal being used in the work due to large-scale deforestation, which forced them to collect charcoal powder at a high price from Kalinganagar in Jajpur district, around 50 to 55 km from the village.

On an average, they earn Rs 300 to 500 per day. “But during the time of ‘Magha Mela’ in Joranda (seat of Mahima cult in Dhenkanal district), we do a month-long brisk business fetching around Rs 30,000,” Maharana maintained.

Agriculture acts a step-in behind their principal profession. But, elephants wreak havoc on their part every year shattering hopes of bumper harvest.