Getting down at Jalandhar Railway Station was a mere accident. I had boarded in a train for Pathankot from where I had to travel further to the hills at McLeod Ganj in Himachal Pradesh. On day two of the travel, the train was running 3 hours late. Just before reaching Jalandhar Station, I was advised by a few co-passengers to get down at Jalandhar from where I could easily get a bus for Dharamshala and reach in 3 to 4 hours of time. I liked the idea and there was also an intension to experience life in a major city of Punjab, where I had never been before.
As I stepped out of the station, a rickshaw puller called Nobin got hold of me. I asked him to take me near the bus station to find a place to stay overnight. And that was the beginning of our journey together for the next 4 hours.
In 15 minute we reached near the bus station and Nobin guided me to a hotel. Although decent, it was found a bit expensive. Nobin said lets go to some other place. After a ride of another 15-20 min we landed at another hotel and after the price negotiation I checked in and made my overnight stay.
It was 4 PM. The weather was sizzling hot. Here I must tell you that Jalandhar had allured me for yet another of its attractions, the Haveli and Rangla Punjab Restaurant spread over acres of land on the historic Grand Trunk Road. It was again Nobin, who agreed to take me to the destination. The ride was almost one and half hour to reach and another one and half hour to return back to the hotel.
As we left the hotel and headed into the secluded Cantonment area, we started chatting, informal yet insightful. Nobin hails from Kishanganj, Bihar. He is in his mid 40s. The extreme poverty at home had forced him to migrate to Punjab, when he was 15 years old. In 1985, on the day when Mrs Indira Gandhi, India’s former Prime Minister was assassinated, he was travelling to seek fresh pasture in Punjab. It was a complex decision, but there was no choice left.
In Punjab, he worked as a farm labourer in a prosperous village on daily wages. The work was hectic under harsh condition. In addition to his agricultural labour his job was also to ensure that the cattle are well fed and their hygiene is taken care of.
Nobin, though endured difficulties initially, however, eventually adapted to working in farms. In due time he got married and now father of six children.
He asked me: “Have you got married?” I said: “Yes”. “How many children do you have?” He asked further. I replied: “We don’t have any”. He was shocked listening to my answer and bubbled saying, “you should have at least one child”. I asked: “Why? I am enjoying my freedom and able to give love to so many children, who deserve…” My answer did not convince him. He said: “No, one should have one’s own child.”
I turned my face at him and asked: “what about your children? Are you able to keep them happy?”
He said that there are only two children with him, the younger ones. The rest are at home. He has to work day and night to feed them. He does not have any personal comfort. Perhaps it was written in his fate. To get rid from his suffering he has become a devotee of a Neo-Hindu cult.
I did not know how to comfort him. But the conversation gave me an insight into a perennial problem, i.e. India’s poverty. There are millions of migrants like Nobin in India, who lack basic vision for life. They are deprived of education and 21st century skills. Instead there are exploitations of their ignorance. These in turn lead to population rise and a burden on state’s finances. Can religion really lessen their suffering?
I don’t know what future lies of Nobin’s children. They have to make their own destinies. Only thing I can pray for their well-being.