India: From Bharat and back

Statutory Warning: This post might read very narcissistic as it is essentially about a very personal journey. 

The small boy from Babhnan was very sad looking at things happening in India, 3700 kms away from Hong Kong. Lakhs of migrant labours thrown on the roads in the middle of the Covid 19 lockdown, people starving, doctors being abused and attacked, slums in eerie silence,a religion being vilified and his own friends- urbane, middle and upper middle class locked in, getting depressed. 

Small boy from Babhnan in front of his village house
Small boy from Babhnan in front of his village house

It was essentially a journey back. From India to Bharat. 

Sounds strange? As the constitution asserts that it is India that is Bharat, no? Yeah, in the constitution it is. Just like untouchability is banned and is a cognizable criminal offence in the same constitution. Believe it or not, traveling to India from Bharat is perhaps one of the longest, and the most arduous journeys, one can take upon. Even the far more fortunate ones like the small boy from Babhnan who ticked every box right barring one- so called upper caste? Right, in fact in a landed, locally dominant family. Male? Right? Father in government service? Right, actually a professor, even mom is a school principal. Born in a big town? Sorry, NO. 

In Bhilai, some 14-15 years ago

Yeah. It was a long and arduous journey even for a boy from a privileged family. The one who slowly scaled all the peaks and reached where he wanted to, living a life chasing his dreams- which did never go beyond, ironically, backpacking. The boy never fancied hotels, hostels were where he belonged to- meeting fellow travellers, sharing notes, jokes and often beers too! A fallout of having lived in hostels perhaps, as a boarding student, since he was just 12. 

He was wondering how difficult this journey back to Bharat for those on the roads must be. And he remembered his. 

Going to Gorakhpur at mere 12 as a boarding student. Then Allahabad, at 17. And from Allahabad to Shankargarh where he worked with the Kol Tribals and Snake Charmers, and often slept on the only cot in Balanath’s family- with snakes in their baskets below it. It was a journey of no return. A journey which seldom gets recognised, let alone reaching travel stories. It was to a myriad of slums, teaching children, dreaming of a better future for them. 

This was the last house standing in a village named Jhalkusum in Komna block of Nuapada,
lost to Lower Indira irrigation project in Nuapada, Odisha, in 2013. We could not save it.
This was the last house standing in a village named Jhalkusum in Komna block of Nuapada,
lost to Lower Indira irrigation project in Nuapada, Odisha, in 2013. We could not save it.

Then to Jabalpur- meeting fellow travelers- the unconventional ones. From there it was to almost every nook and corner of India: going to Hyderabad for some labour protest, Ranchi for right to food agitation. Often missing the must visit places, though.

From there it was to JNU: that was to change him even more. And a journey undertaken like none other- a bus journey demanding Right to Employment. 52 days, 12 states from Delhi to Maharashtra and back. Hundreds of places- big and small- sleeping in villages under mango trees- a throwback to the summer vacations in his village by the Manvar river decades ago. The journey succeeded, by the way, with the passing of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005. The small boy from Babhnan smiled, after very long, thinking of this.

A village in Rewa, Madhya Pradesh. This one is still standing.
A village in Rewa, Madhya Pradesh. This one is still standing.

The journey was interesting, along with many jailbreaks- no not the iphone ones, real as they happen with activists. Basti, Allahabad, Nuapada, Kochi, Palanpur, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Raipur, Amarkantak, Bhadrak, Chennai, Bhuvaneshwar, Agartala, Bishrampur, Shillong, Palakkad, Lansdowne, Kaithal, Indore, Solan, Gaya, Ranchi, Nagpur, Goa, Puruliya, Guwahati, Bhilwara, Jammu, Ropar, – he remembered some of the stops, in no order though. It was a journey full of horrors, of being in boats on what were villages, full of living people and all that come along with them, now submerged by some dam. It was a journey full of hopes, of Niyamgiri people successfully saving their lands for decades.

It's a fake, laboured smile extracted out in a reservoir that once was land belonging to Reyang and Chakma Adivasis. And there was a river sacrificed at the altar of development at Dumboor Dam, Tripura.
It’s a fake, laboured smile extracted out in a reservoir that once was land belonging to Reyang and Chakma Adivasis. And there was a river sacrificed at the altar of development. — at Dumboor Dam, Tripura.

From there it was to Hong Kong, and then many places- including Kathmandu- home for over a month! 

An anchor shrieking broke his chain of thoughts. He was back to the millions of journeys taking place from India to Bharat again. Journeys full of losses. Of jobs, dreams and hopes. No one wants to leave home, after all. If so many people from rural India did that, they did it under sheer compulsion. Be they privileged like the small boy writing this, or desperate- forced into distress migration. It is urban India, mostly metropolitan alone, which is their only escape route- a chance of finding a job, a life, a home- howsoever small- a shanty in a slum, home nonetheless. 

This too shall pass, they would be fine. The boy tried to reassure himself. Amen.

http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/2020/

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