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Geetanjali Krishna: Like a rolling stone

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Whenever I speak to people who have migrated from other parts of the country to make their home, I wonder whether certain traits predispose some people to migrate. Why is it that one man leaves his ancestral village and land to seek his fortune in an unknown land, while his brothers remain rooted? I remember thinking about this when I first met — a watchman in our colony. He was from a little village in Garwhal. Growing up, he often chafed at the fact that nothing at all happened in his village. “It was so boring! Nothing much to do, no job opportunities...I couldn’t wait to escape!” he exclaimed. This feeling was perhaps exacerbated by the fact that his elder brothers were looking after the family land, and the earnings from it were too little to support Bahadur as well. So when a cousin invited him to come to Delhi, he leapt at the chance to migrate.

“I arrived in Delhi and instantly got a night job as a watchman and several car cleaning assignments in the mornings,” he said. With few living expenses (he shared a small room with four other kinsmen) he was able to send a lot of money home. It was the life he’d always dreamed of — there was plenty of money to send home and the added excitement of city life. Maybe it was the stories he told about the city, or that his wife also became bored of living in the village. But soon she started making noises about moving to the bustle and glamour of Delhi with their two children.

When I ran into him a couple of months later, Bahadur’s demeanour had changed. He had a lot of money woes, he said, when I asked what was wrong. “While I was still figuring out how to bear the added expenditure of a single room with bathroom for the wife and kids, my father developed TB in the village,” he said. The hefty cheques he had been sending home every month had convinced his family that he was doing really well. So the parents had also moved in with him for medical treatment. “Suddenly, whatever I earn isn’t enough,” he said. All his earnings were being funnelled into house rent, school fees and medical bills.

Was there a way out of Bahadur’s situation, I wondered? Apparently, he thought so. “A cousin recently told me that someone he knows works in Singapore. He’ll organise work permits if we’re able to emigrate there…” he said. “As a migrant, I didn’t have any proof of address in Delhi. So I first got a voter ID card made, and using that as ID and address proof, have applied for a passport,” he said. What plans did he have for his wife and children, I asked? “Well, I’ve learnt the hard way that to make the most of a new place, it is best to be unencumbered by family,” he said.

“People ask me how I’ll manage if I do go to Singapore, so faraway from family and roots. They forget I’ve been a nomad since I left my village in Uttaranchal. Now all I care about is earning a decent living, no matter where!” he said, getting back to washing cars and dreaming of a better land. And I again went back to thinking whether some traits predisposed some people to this peculiar sense of rootlessness.

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