Most nights in the past week, Channamma slept in the Bangalore Palace. “Yesterday, we worked all night. I haven’t slept.”
Channamma was one of several women who did the flower decoration for the sangeet night (Tuesday) on the occasion of Ballari mining baron Gali Janardhana Reddy’s daughter Brahmani’s wedding with businessman P Rajeev Reddy. The party went on until 2am on Wednesday at a set created in the Palace Grounds in Bengaluru.
Hailing from a village in Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh district, Channamma looked worried as she sat outside one of the venues with about six other women. They were clearing up the flowers, and waiting to be paid.
“I can’t find the man who is supposed to pay us. If we get hold of him, I can catch the 4pm train to go home,” Channamma said. The time was 2.45pm.
What if she didn’t get paid on time? There were other trains she said.
Channamma approached a woman passerby. “Can I make a call from your phone? I have no currency in mine.” She requested the woman to read out a number from her phone.
After that phone call was made, she said: “I’m so sorry to be asking you this, but can you also call my husband? His name is Raju.” There were six Rajus in the contact list. “The number ends with a 6,” Channamma exclaimed.
Finally, after more calls to the man who had brought her here, and walking a long distance to reach another part of the 36-acre site, Channamma and some of the other women were paid.
“We got Rs 300 for each day. My daughter has gone to the bank. We are waiting for her to return with Rs 2,000 so that we can take the train home,” a grey-haired woman said. They had all been paid in the old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. Until the daughter returned, they would wait.
With demonetisation in place, most workers were worried about how to exchange the old currency notes they had been given as payment. All over the ground, workers – both daily wage workers and employees of event management companies – were finishing up work, or taking rest.
Having finished lunch at the large dining hall, a group of women employed with an event management company were heading home. Still in her make-up but in regular clothes, one of the women told The News Minute that clients paid in all kinds of ways. “But cash is the best. You never know if the cheque will bounce. Who wants to run after people for money if does?” she said.
As she left with her co-workers, one of them groaned and asked aloud, “Does anybody have change?”
People getting paid
Many event management companies had hired models, ushers, caterers and bouncers for varying periods. Their payments could be in cash or by cheque.
Tents had been set up on the grounds for the models. After the wedding, one event management company was making payments. Amid the buzz of activity, a group of women sat in a car with a senior-looking employee in the drivers’ seat. The man had a stack of old Rs 500 notes over a notebook on his lap. He paid the women in cash.
In another part of the grounds, an employee of another event company said the firm hired models on three-month contracts and they were paid between Rs 1,300-1,600 for one shift. Multiple shifts in a day meant more money.
Men in black stood in groups of twos or threes. The wedding was over and the last few hundred guests were having their meals in a large tent that could accommodate 7,000 people. Bouncers had been hired three months ago.
“Initially, there were just 10 of us, because we had to keep people out,” a heavy-set man told The News Minute. The number varied as workers built replicas of the Vijaya Vitthala temple and other monuments in the ruins of Hampi.
The number substantially increased on the days of the wedding festivities. “Yesterday, (for the sangeet) it was very difficult. A lot of stars had come and we had to control the crowd.” Bouncers’ payments would be routed through the event management company.
As we left, an elderly woman who sat on the ground on a rock asked us if we had had lunch. Hailing from Tumakuru district, the woman lived and worked in Bengaluru. She too had helped with the flower decoration. “Today is the first proper meal I ate in days. I’m tired,” she said.