A migrant’s travelogue
As narrated to Dipankar Ghoshe
I'm Robin Das and I'm narrating my 3-day hike to Odisha to my Kaku (uncle).
I was Kaku's (Dipankar) neighbour, working on the Centering of a construction, near the Palavakkam beach. After a month of Lockdown, we Bengali workers from Odisha and Bengal decided to break free and return home.
I, along with two other coworkers, went to Neelankarai police station on April 29, asking for help to return to our native states. We didn't receive much of a response, except being told to go to an office on Marina Beach and get a passage out of Chennai by train. Disappointed, we returned to our site and started getting phone calls from home.
The next morning Kaku introduced me to Mr. Kirod Jena, President of Utkal Association in Chennai and a close aide of Odisha Chief Minister Navin Patnaik, He is a resident of Thiruvanmiyur. He asked his friend Mr. Pobitro to follow it up and I received the following message on May 2:
Those who registered their details on Odisha Govt portal for return with their mobile details, please check your mobile on a regular interval. You may get a message or call from govt. regarding the govt arrangement for return. Moreover, we will pass you the message immediately after getting the details from the government.
No message came and Pobitroda gave the shocking news on May 5, that no train would leave Chennai and the Odisha Government wasn't encouraging migrants to return. They're afraid that Corona will spread.
The next day my Centring contractor came to Palavakkam and took me to his hub in T. Nagar. We went to the police station, where once again I was told to register online. To me, everything looked like a hoax. Like me, Kaku was trying to guide 50 of us to Kolkata, Murshidabad, and Malkangiri. But, when things looked hopeless, we planned our Great Escape in different ways.
On 9th May, at 5 am, I was dropped off by a Tamil coworker, near the Koyambedu bus stand, where I was joined by 3 others. We managed a drop at Moolakadai junction in an auto, paying ₹ 400. There we met an Odia chap waiting by a car with a local driver. We 4 were a blessing to him, as his fare to the Andhra border was shared by us and on being dropped off after Arambakkam, we walked to the Andhra border. We weren't permitted to cross and needed to dodge the police and authorities to go to the other side. We retreated and then sneaked through the wilderness behind Sri City and crossed over, well beyond Tada. We continued our true-life adventure, first to Sullurpet by a Minidor van and then by auto to Naidupet. We trekked, hitchhiked, rode on the tractor, sometimes paying through the nose for the few kilometers of drive, other times making our way on humanitarian goodwill. In this way, we reached and camped for the night near Nellore.
Food wasn't scarce as all along our route, there were mobile volunteers distributing rice, roti, cooked vegetables, etc. We were touched by humankind.
The next day, we proceeded onward to Vijayawada, once being pampered by a truck driver who overloaded us with fruits and another time we jumped into a cattle lorry and sat on gobar all through. Changing our mode of travel several times, the last leg to Vijayawada bus terminal was done on foot, across the bridge over Krishna River. We pitied the thousands of guest workers with infants and children on feet who were on the reverse migration, as we used our wit and progressed westwards from Vijayawada.
By now, my feet were sore and bleeding although, in our exodus, we 4 companions would have walked about 25 kilometers only. It was night when we reached the Odisha border of Motu. We had dinner and slept on the Andhra side.
The next morning, I called you Kaku as I also did from Vijayawada. Well refreshed with a good breakfast, we set foot in our native state, in the district of Malkangiri. We were home at last, though quarantined for the next 14 days, about 12 km from my parents' house in Podhia. My mother visited me and what was reassuring to her was the comfort given to us after this gruelling journey from nowhere, in food and stay, at the quarantine centre. Our resilience brought us home.
Most of the coworkers took the private bus in batches to Kolkata from Velachery, paying a fare of ₹ 7, 000/- each. Kaku taught us to explore the outdoors at the cost of ₹ 1, 700/- in our entire journey. Jai ho!