John Donbok Pakma
was working in a BPO in Ahmedabad when the lockdown was announced on March 24. More than 50 days later, he was on a Shramik Special bound for his home in the Jaintia Hills, sans job , sans money. He spoke to our correspondent
Here in first person account is the story of Pakma’s journey)
It started as a trickle, soon it turned into a torrent . People started fleeing the city they had considered their second home – scared, hungry and restless. On foot, on cycles, on bikes. I wasn’t among them. I could afford to wait for a while.
But even then, when the time to move came, it seemed abrupt. Long journeys come with a bit of preparation. Not for me. Nor for hundreds of thousands of others like me. When the janata curfew kept us inside our homes for a day on March 23 we scarcely anticipated what was to follow. Then our big country came to a sudden halt. We were to shelter in place. Though our shelters were no longer to be places where we were safe.
Our stock of groceries and other essentials started dwindling. Our salaries were slashed. Many I know lost their jobs. There was nowhere those on daily wages could turn to. Then the harassment from the landlords started. When we appealed to their humanity, they told us they needed the rent to make their own ends meet. The fact was , clearly, they didn’t have much hope in us pulling out of the mess.
I felt it did not help me much that I am from the Northeast. And very much look the part. As uncertainty at the workplace and fear of infection grew, I too quit my job at the BPO where I was employed. When dreams of success melted away, I realised I was just another migrant fighting alone for survival in a big city. And as it happens with people anywhere in the world, at the time of a crisis your thoughts turn to the place you call home. I thought more of my mother, my sisters.
The less fortunate ones among the city’s nameless thousands had tried, with varying degrees of success, to foot it out to their native villages in the east. The first phase of lockdown got over on April 14 . Then the second lasted another two weeks. All this time the number of Covid-19 cases in Ahmedabad kept on going up alarmingly. There was the growing threat of infection on one side. There was joblessness and threat of hunger on the other.
Then, just like that, the Shramik Special trains started. I learnt there would be one taking workers back to Meghalaya and other northeastern states. Then started the mad rush to get my name on the list. My friend Raymond Kharbani started organising things for our journey. Fellow Meghalayan Kyntiewmon War pitched in. Kyntiewmon, or Kyn as we call her, has a steady job there; but her bleeding heart didn’t let her stay back in the comfort of her apartment when thousands who had lost everything were scrambling for home.“I am not going home. But none of you who want to go back will stay, we’ll make sure of that,” she assured ud. She also pulled in Purabi Bhattacharya, a Gujarat-based writer from Meghalaya.
After a bit of push and pull we were on the same track as the government officials coordinating the trip, and finally early in the morning of May 15, we found ourselves on a bus to Vadodara. Our train to Guwahati was to start from there.
We were tired, there was no food or water. We had barely managed a bite or two in the morning in our panic to be on that bus.