Uncertain departures


Adapted from Jayaswal, A. (DD.MM.YY)

My primary task, as a CES Fellow, was to work closely with one migrant worker and hang out with him, his family and friends for the next one year. In this context, among the first people I met who seek employment away from Sargana was Jaydeep Rishi. He is a construction worker, who goes to Jammu for work. Jaydeep introduced me to his nephew Sundar. Sundar was about to leave for Ludhiana, where he works in the construction sector, building gurudwaras. Jaydeep’s two sons also worked alongside Sundar. All three are presently in Sargana to vote for the matriarch, Kamla Rishi. Sundar agreed to me travelling with him and his cousins. We decided to board the train to Ludhiana from Saharsa on May 6 at 4 p.m. To do that, we would have to leave Sargana by bus at 8 a.m. that morning so we can be on time to take the train.

Two trains service the route we plan to take. The Jan Seva (15209) and Jan Sadharan (14603) start their journey in Saharsa and make their way to Ludhiana via Gorakhpur, to eventually terminate in Amritsar. The Jan Seva is a daily train: it leaves at 8:45 a.m. every morning. The Jan Sadharan is a weekly train, which leaves every Friday at 4 p.m. The route from Sargana to Saharsa takes about four-five hours by bus. Those who want to use the morning train have to leave for Saharsa the night before. They must spend the night at the station if they want to take the train on time and be able reserve a seat. Some people try to avoid the night halt at the station, and prefer to take the weekly train which departs from Saharsa in the evening. The reasoning is that because two trains depart Saharsa on the same day, the traffic is more evenly distributed, and the trains are less crowded than on other days.

Credit: Ankur Jaiswal

Credit: Ankur Jaiswal

My excitement about accompanying Sundar and his cousins ran aground the day prior to our proposed departure. When I met Sundar on the evening of May 5, he informed me that their travel plans had been rescheduled. They would now leave on May 7 instead of May 6. They would board the bus from Sargana on May 7 in the evening, and the train to Ludhiana the following morning. Sundar’s brother, cousins and five other neighbors from the same hamlet as him would also accompany them.

On the morning of May 7, I called Sundar to confirm our plan. There was no response. I then went to his home to meet him. He was not at home. His father informed me that Sundar had gone to Ranigunj, the nearest town, to meet his sister. When I asked him if Sundar would leave that evening, he said he was not sure.

I thought that perhaps Sundar had gone to meet his sister prior to his long journey to the north-west. I called Sundar again later during the day, but- again- got no response. At about 2 p.m. I packed my bag and arrived at Surendra’s house. Surendra told me that he had not yet received the advance from the contractor. He had gone to the bank at Ranigunj earlier in the day, but because of an electronic fault, was not able to access the money. The contractor would be coming to Sargana the following day- he is in Ludhiana at the moment. Provided the contractor paid them the advance on May 9, Sundar and his mates could leave on Friday, May 13.

As it happened, Sundar’s family was going through a lot at that point. His father’s liver had been diagnosed to be diseased. Moreover, a niece was to be married on May 12. They recently had to sell an ox in the market to meet the anticipated costs of the treatment and the marriage. Sundar’s plans about going to Ludhiana also looked uncertain, as he now contemplated travelling to Hissar, in Haryana State, where he said he would work to construct drains for the agricultural fields. He said he might leave on May 16.

The contractor, Damodar Rajak, arrived in Sargana the following day, May 8. Along with him came Shailendra Rishi, his trusted mason and Sundar’s cousin. Shailendra was not too worried about being in Sargana during the elections. But his niece’s wedding- that was a different matter. Shailendra was into the construction sector, building gurudwaras. He had left his work incomplete and was keen to return to it as soon as he possibly could.  Shailendra was categorical that he would leave for Ludhiana on Friday, May 20. I explored the possibility of accompanying Shailendra and was very relieved when Shailendra- and his contractor Damodar Rajak- agreed.

In the meantime, Sundar’s plans for Hissar fell through. His father’s illness and the marriage observances meant that he could not leave immediately, as was required of the workers on this project. Sundar too decided to accompany his cousin and the contractor to Ludhiana, as indeed he had initially planned. About seven or eight additional people would also join Shailendra. Work on constructing gurudwaras was expanding and labour was constantly needed.

On the morning of May 20, I followed a now-familiar routine. Bagpack in hand, I arrived at the compound that Sundar’s and Shailendra’s families shared. It was soon clear that we would not be leaving on the 20th either. Sundar demanded that the contractor pay an advance of INR 1,000. Without the advance there was no question of travelling. Shailendra tried to convince him to take half the amount. Sundar flatly refused. Shailendra urged his cousin to trust the contractor- after all, he was going with them and would sitting in the same compartment. However, Sundar remained unmoved and their departure plans for that day failed to materialise.

Damodar Rajak and Shailendra decided that they would mobilise labour from neighboring villages were Sundar to remain so adamant. They rescheduled their travel to the following Friday, May 27. Shailendra was rather pleased with this postponement: he could spend some more time with his young family and harvest his sunflower crop.

Stay tuned to read about our actual departure.

The original blog post in Hindi is available here: