The pucca LCM of growth

The lowly brick, that is

Published: Friday 15 July 2005

-- the pucca lcm, or lowest common multiple, of growth is a burnt-red rectangular object. It is 10 inches long, 5 inches broad and 3 inches wide. Wrought in clay dug out of prime agricultural land, it is born in a mould and achieves a speedy maturity in a furnace. Thereafter it is laden on a truck. It then migrates from the informal economy in which it was manufactured, @ Rs 900 to Rs 1,700 per thousand.

It then lives the rest of its inanimate life bolstering the built-up universe. According to a 1995 Building Materials & Technology Promotional Council study paper, it must be packed 225 to a square metre in a foundation, laid out 178 to a square metre in an office plinth and 221 to a square metre in a laboratory plinth. Ready to tumble out of a heritage ruin at a touch, it gives palaces their awe-inspiring faade and barracks their numbing uniformity. It is the stuff dreams are made of: what, after all, would a home loan be without it? Indeed, could Parliament exist without its support, whether on the inside or on the outside?

So much it makes possible. Is that why it also carries so many pockmarks? Here's a perfect scar: where it is born, the land turns barren. 20,234 hectares of topsoil gets sacrificed in its making every year, by one estimate. Yet farmers have no qualms in leasing out their land to kiln owners. The money's good, you see, often much more than what a farmer makes by cultivating the land. Here's a black one: where it is made, no dew falls in the morning on the surrounding fields, only flakes of black soot. For seven to eight months in a year, the kiln chimney urgently spews particulate matter and carcinogenic chemicals, the result of burning inferior coal and rubber that's cheaper than coal. In this sphere, it isn't as if regulations don't exist. The Central Pollution Control Board (cpcb) has framed emission guidelines. But, as any cpcb official would put it, it isn't their job to regulate. Whose job is it then? Nobody knows. So it is that it is the stuff tubercular lungs are made of, especially among the children who lend a hand at the kiln. Mother's there, father's there. The kiln owners crack the profit whip: migrant labourer families bear the brunt.

Indeed, could all of built-up India, especially the one that is to be built-up, think of existing without the support of the pucca lcm of growth?

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