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Lockdown Flashback: India is alive & kicking

Migrant workers’ crisis: More than I was surprised, it opened my eyes. Now I can see why migrant workers are deserting the cities and what gives them the confidence to walk 1000 -1500 km on foot, hungry and penniless. India is alive and kicking. The cities may have mortified its senses but just outside the cities, it’s not shy of showing that it cares, and how. 

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In the last two-three days, I had a couple of occasions to find myself pleasantly surprised. And the source was a young 20-something mate from the Ashram. I always have had great regards for him: He does yoga every day even If he is getting late for his work, he keeps dry fast every fortnight, and sometimes such as during the lockdown every week on his own volition. He used to work in a big hotel before the lockdown and was happy with his job and his ability to earn his living. Before I met him, he lived in the Ashram and had been doing a hotel management course. During my initial days in the Ashram, whenever he would find me sitting alone and contemplating, he would ask me why I was sad. And, that would leave me wondering why I was sad. Ashram life is so different! Here, there is no place for sadness.

In the last one month, we lived about 30 km apart in the same city – he in a rented room with some of his colleagues and I with my family in a rented house on the outskirts close to the sea where there were not many restrictions and the lockdown was more like an extended holiday.

I regularly enquired about him and he would also call me every two-three days. He was fed up with the idleness and at one point he told me that he is planning to do something in the day time like selling bananas on the street since vegetables and fruits were part of essential services.

I said great ideas — tell me how I can help you, make me a partner in your business. But there was no way we could meet up and get on with this dream project.

In the last few days, he became restless and called me many times. He said his roommates from UP have all gone and he, too, wants to go to his home in Jharkhand – Jamshedpur to be precise. Looking at the plight of migrant workers I would tell him that he should wait till the train services resume.

But every day he would come up with fresh information about how some vehicles are carrying people to Nashik or Nagpur and from there another vehicle may be found. For the first time, I realized how restive the migrant workers are.

But I was concerned. A true devotee of the guru, he had the grace of God as we say in our Ashram parlance. One evening he called up and said he is finally going two days later. He has found the bus, got his name registered. I checked if the bus will take him all the way to Jamshedpur, 2000 km from here. He said yes.

Not sure what to expect from this, looking at the lockdown I gave him my advice that he should carry enough dry food, water, save on his mobile’s battery and keep in touch during the journey.

In the next call, he told me that he was inside the bus and it would start in a few minutes, and everything was fine about it. I asked how much the fare was, he said it’s free. A 2000-km bus ride for free! He informed me that all the passengers were given free food packets and water bottles.

The next morning he called me to tell his bus was close to Nagpur and everything was fine about the journey so far. I asked if he got something to eat, he answered there was no problems about food and water as people, especially from Sikh Gurdwaras, were distributing these essential items to migrant workers marching their way home on foot or whatever mode of transport was available. There is nothing to worry about.

More than I was surprised, it opened my eyes. Now I can see why migrant workers are deserting the cities and what gives them the confidence to walk 1000 -1500 km on foot, hungry and penniless. India is alive and kicking. The cities may have mortified its senses but just outside the cities, it’s not shy of showing that it cares, and how.

(Based in Mumbai, the writer is a journalist, content, and blog writer. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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