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Punyasloke Bose



Punyasloke Bose


Manglu The Migrant Laborer

Manglu The Migrant Laborer

9 mins 83 9 mins 83

"Manglu, you cannot stay here anymore. You have to search for a living to support yourself and your family". This was what Manglu's father said to Manglu one day. Mangal was the youngest of his brothers and he was fondly called Manglu. He belonged to a big family who was farmers for generations. They had farming land in plenty and the income from the land was enough to support a large number of mouths. But since the last two decades, there had been divisions and further partitions in the land amongst the various inheritors. As Manglu was the youngest the share of land which came his way was very little and was just enough to support barely one or two people. So commercial farming was out of the question. Unless there was farming to cater to the market then there would be no income and with little or no income surviving on this land for bare sustenance was highly risky and foolhardy. Because if any unwarranted or unplanned expense came your way you would be completely in a soup. You needed to borrow to survive. Hence surviving on farming as an income was absurd. That is why Manglu's father was cautioning him to look elsewhere for making a living. Manglu would be the first from his family to look for work outside the family farm. He had to do something because he had recently married and he was a responsible family man. Beyond primary school, Manglu had not studied further. So he was unskilled and could only work as a daily wager.

Manglu was thinking of ways to improve his earnings when he met his friend Kallu on the way to the market one day. Kallu had recently come back from the big city and was due to return. Kallu told Manglu to accompany him to the city where there were a lot of opportunities. A lot of people were working as daily wage laborers and were making a decent income. The Labour contractor was employing people by the dozen and there was a lot of work. New buildings were coming up and there was no end to employment for construction workers. The money was paid by the contractor at the end of each day and the amount was unthinkable for Manglu and the people of his village. Such was the rosy picture that Kallu painted in front of Manglu. So Kallu took Manglu to his construction site and helped him get the job. The work was very grinding but at the end of the day when Manglu counted the money by wetting his finger with his saliva, it was so satisfying that his full day's tiredness vanished instantly. It was a life-changing moment. Manglu had taken his living quarters in a slum-like everyone else. Because it was close to his area of work and the rent was cheap. In a few days, Manglu went back home and brought his wife Moti along to help him in his daily life.

Things were going very well for Manglu. Within four years of work, he had made enough savings to build his own house. So much work was there that not a single day had passed these past four years when he had to sit out without work.

Things were going merrily for Manglu and Moti when all of a sudden their lives turned upside down. Not only theirs but all the fellow-laborers were feeling the heat. All of a sudden the city came to a grinding halt. All work was told to be stopped and for an indefinite period.

An unknown disease had come to the city from some foreign country. In fact, the whole country was reeling under this deadly disease. An unknown virus was found to have come from some foreign country and no one knew about the cure. The government ordered a total shut down of all work. The people were advised to stay away from each other that was being called as social distancing. The honorable Prime Minister addressed the Nation on television advising caution and to not panic. He advised a one-day self-imposed quarantine the 'Janta Curfew' to avoid mingling among the people so that the chain for the Virus could be broken. Manglu had seen the televised address.

In over a century no one knew of such a calamity taking over the human race. The police and government were advising people to stay at home. They were also advised to work from home where possible. Manglu and his ilk were new to this concept of work from home. For their type of work, it was impossible to work from home. They were construction workers and there work was on the site.

The disease was spreading faster than fire and by mere touching an infected person the disease could catch on. The number of infected people was rising fast. The government had to take drastic measures to contain the spread or sacrifice countless human lives. The Prime Minister again addressed the Nation a second time, in a span of four days. He advised a 21 days lockdown. All the activities would have to be shut to avoid human contact.

All of a sudden Manglu and gang were rendered jobless. Such a secure job where there was no doubt of security and this just vanished within a few days. The government was very worried about the high contagion of this disease which was being called as COVID 19 or Corona Virus-infected disease of the year 2019. In India, the health facility was not supportive enough to manage the huge population and the infrastructure in the health sector was far from satisfactory. The developed countries with such advanced health care were grappling with the disease but were clueless about the ways to curb it. There the infection was spreading like fire and casualties were mounting exponentially. So our government was not taking chances and wanted to stop the spread of this contagious disease to limit the casualty.

More hardship was to follow. As the lockdown was declared the first casualty was the daily wage earners like Manglu. First, they were rendered jobless and now their landlord asked Manglu and the like to vacate their holdings immediately. The landlord would not renew the rent lease. All of a sudden Manglu was hit by a double whammy, first joblessness and secondly homelessness.

Now there was no alternative left for Manglu but to head for home in the village he had left four years ago. Within this period he had visited his village just once when he had gone to bring his wife Moti. He had no knowledge of the status of his house if it was still ready for habitation or not.

All of a sudden the government was taking all possible steps immediately. The transport was also halted so that carriers of the disease were not escaping the net of the administration. All trains, buses, and airlines were stopped. It became very difficult for Manglu to make the journey. He had so much of luggage now which was accumulated over the past four years. He had no choice but to leave them behind abandoning them forever without getting any compensation. Only the bare essentials and food were to be carried for survival.

There was news that the administration had arranged for special buses to carry home the migrant laborers like Manglu. Hearing the news Manglu along with wife Moti took all their belongings they could manage and headed for the bus stand. There they were welcomed by a sea of human faces. In this period of social distancing, there were so many people around in the bus stand all packed it seemed that normal times had come back. Very few buses had been arranged and there were too many people to be carried home. It seemed absurd. But such is the travails in the life of a migrant laborer. Manglu never got and never did think of any comfort in his life. Only sometimes he used to think and ask God that if he had to be born again, please make him a pet dog of a rich master. Because he used to see the comfort which a pet dog enjoyed. Taking a ride in a big car with his master. Also, he had heard that these dogs were enjoying air-conditioned comfort at their master's house. Such luxuries for Manglu was beyond contemplation. Only dogs enjoyed better lives. After all, it's a dog's life. Poor humans had no value. All these thoughts flooded Manglu's mind and suddenly he became philosophical and his troubles vanished temporarily.

Manglu was startled from his reverie when a bus sounded the alarm. It was due to commence its journey. Manglu packed up Moti in a seat which luckily was the only one available. His luggage was scattered on the roof of the bus. The people who could not manage a seat climbed on top and crowded the roof. Soon the bus was packed like bees that stick to their honeycombs. The homeward journey began. Manglu was lucky to manage a seat for Moti his wife because she was pregnant. This was her third pregnancy. The other two had ended in miscarriages. Little comfort Manglu could provide for his wife. In fact, he himself could not get a seat and sit the whole journey at his wife's feet.

The bus continued the journey and stopped to let passengers get down whose villages had been reached. Some ten hours later after all cramped up to the deepest bone in the body did Manglu reach his village. They got down and arranged for a carriage home or whatever that was left of it. Without repair, his house had collapsed due to the storms that hit the villages during the summer. Who else would repair it other than Manglu. So more troubles awaited Manglu and Moti. His brothers did not accept him at their house and his parents were no longer alive to speak out in their support.

The local panchayat had made temporary arrangements for the returnees in the village school. The school is closed due to the quarantine program.

So the school where Manglu had studied in his childhood had become his temporary shelter till further arrangements were made.

There was no work, no income. Free food or whatever eatables that were being provided for by the local administration were the semblance for survival. Manglu had lost all hopes in life. He cursed his ill luck for all his miseries. He thought why the government was protecting them from this virus and disease when their lives had no value. Even the Lord of death Yamraj would not come to take his body as he had no worth.

Then amidst all this gloom and sorrow, Moti, his wife gave birth. The pain had started and Moti had been rushed to the village primary health center where there was a maternity ward. There the baby was born. It was their first baby, a boy and he was healthy and bonny. Manglu was transformed. Both mother and child were safe. By taking his son in his arms like in a cradle Manglu forgot all his troubles and travails. His son's smile wiped away all the miseries and sufferings of the past few days. Such is the human bondage of a migrant Labourer. Amidst the gloom and despair, nature had sent a harbinger of peace and happiness.

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