We go outside for one reason – deprivation. What is deprivation? It is that maybe there is no money, maybe there are children, one has a family. To make the child a man, money is required; now that one can earn some money at the village itself, whatever agricultural work is there, I’ll do that. But it is not enough: that is why one needs to go out; one needs to go out for money. One’s child is becoming an adult, has become somewhat of an adult – still, there are more things he needs to become a man. Only then will the father’s and mother’s responsibility be crossed… Like yours have done things for you, and then have you been able to travel: like that, I also have a responsibility.
What hopes do you have for your children?
For my children… I will tell you about myself. I was born in one village, and I am settled in another village [meaning he’s landless]. I have made a home in another person’s land. Now I think, for my children, that I will make something in their name. That’s my wish. That’s why maybe I go to another place, outside, to work.
Do you all together…
Yes we go together; six people. At times there are more, at times less. Sometimes there are less: four of us would go, or three. It happens that while going on the road, of six people two are left behind for some reason – they could not catch the bus for example and they went back home; or some go first, some later, that also happens.
So, the employers call you or what?
They call directly. They are acquainted with us from before. Suppose, we have gone once, the salary has been fixed, we have gone to that house and our work was good… so they might have given their number; we got to know how they are, whether they are good or bad and they know how it went. Now if it was good, they tell us to come back when it is time to harvest again. Then suppose, the harvest time is delayed for some days: they’ll call and say ‘come at this time’; then they’d call us and we’d leave from here. Then we would do cut and harvest the paddy.
From now, will you be staying at home for one month, two months?
I stay at home all year! Just spend one-two months outside.
Now you stay at home, but when do you go again?
I will go in the season; now the paddy has just been harvested, when it will have been planted again and become red, they will call us from there. Then we go, like that. I go only twice. I do only paddy harvesting.
What other work is there?
There are many places, here there is jute cultivation and harvesting, vegetables… but I don’t go for those things; I used to go earlier but I don’t go that side anymore. I don’t go on that line anymore… just go to Bardhaman.
Is Bardhaman better than Hooghly?
I cannot tell about Hooghly, since I haven’t gone there.
Are there other lines?
Yes there are other lines: from Katua on, there are many areas. Like Raninagar, then Naxalpur, Bagoltola, there are various divisions. Maybe your house is there and you take it and go. Another person goes to another place; that also happens.
What is the most difficult for you and what is good about leaving?
Good is staying in one’s place. Does one like to go outside, to leave one’s children? Will one’s heart last? One has to go for the pull of money. Poverty.
What are the problems?
There are problems, of course – there is a risk to life, like when we came in the vehicle yesterday, that vehicle might for some reason have had an accident, that is a risk. One has to go, in spite of such a risk. Then again… there is no guarantee. You are breathing now, but that can leave you anytime, right? Maybe I am away, and my breathing leaves me and my corpse is just found lying there. This also happens. With such a life one has to take the risk and carry on. [I must believe] that I will travel, and then I will return and work again.
Where do you sleep at night, who cooks, how is it when you stay outside?
We do not cook where we go, the people of that house will cook for us: our work is just to work, nothing else. Everything else is their task. We carry our clothes, as you see us now, we won’t carry anything else apart from the instruments with which to cut the paddy. They take care of everything, from cigarettes, money, water, all living necessities, whatever: they’ll give all that. We will only go and work.
How long did you stay there, in Delhi?
I was there for 2 ½ months.
Did you work in a brick kiln there?
Yes I did.
Who had you gone with?
There was a contractor. Say, that old man came and talked to you earlier – like that, one person would come and say ‘come, you have to work with us’. He’ll explain how, what is to do, he’ll say you’ll work from 8 to 5. Then, once we are there, we find out we have to work from 7 in the morning to 9.30 at night. The contractors have got extra money on our hard work’s costs, and now that we have come, we cannot go back without having worked, as they have already given us money back home; they have paid for our travel and taken us along. We are bound to do this work for two-and-half months.
Now I have no desire to go work outside. Outside, I have to work, whether I want to or not. Even if I don’t want to, I have to do that work, because I have gone outside. In my village, well, I might not wish to, but I’ll work when there is some work in front of me, I have more liberty since I am in my village. When I go out, even if the wish doesn’t arise, even then I have gone out of my own wish, I’ll have to do the work. Now, outside, there are things that are impossible for me to do; but I have to make it possible, I have to do it: I have to force myself and I will have to do that work, since I have gone outside for money. I cannot keep sitting. If I just don’t work for one day, it is a loss of 100-150Rs. So one has to make an income. Over that then, there is the rent for a room…
What is the most beautiful cultivation work?
It is paddy. This is the most beautiful. Now it looks in a certain way, when it is red it looks another way, when it will be cut it will be another kind of paddy; when it will be spread to dry, it will have another colour. This is just green and more green, there is no better colour than that.
You have been going to Bardhaman for some years now. Is Bardhaman good?
Whether it is good or bad, I will have to say it’s good since I will have to go twice a year. There is no option for me, since I have to go for money; it will have to be good. It is not that all places are good. Like, if one stays among one’s own people, he can rely on a certain knowledge, he knows what to expect. With the Hindus, not everyone is good. Some of them will serve us rice maintaining a certain distance from us; some others will give us food on the plate, bending low; some would clean the place while giving us food [as we are Muslims]. Then we contact them and tell them we’ll leave, we can’t clean in their house, sweep their house. If you can, take us or let it be.
Do you like travelling on top of the bus?
Yes I don’t like it inside. It is hot inside. On top there is air. Inside it is hot, and you get the gases from other vehicles, I cannot bear that gas. that’s why I like travelling on top. Train is better, you can sit and travel in comfort; on the bus it gets too much. It takes more time by train, but it is comfortable.
How do you know which bus to catch, if you can’t read?
Within the group, there will be one who has passed class 2, class 5, like Yanush. He knows, he has understood which bus goes on which line, and how we get there. Then he gets train tickets for all, we give him the money; he calls us and we board that vehicle. Where will we go alone?! I have never travelled alone. Because I cannot go alone, which vehicle will I catch? What line will I take? Where will I change bus – I will get lost, I cannot understand. I am blind with my eyes, as I cannot read. So one has to take an informed person with them: Yanush is there, we go together. We dumb [uneducated] people, once we would have gone for 5-7 times, we could go on our own after having gotten familiar. But when we go somewhere new, we are not able to recognize it, so we are not able to go. We cannot know what place to go, how to go…
Do you have any wish to go to Kerala?
I have no wish to go to Kerala. I don’t like it.
Why do you not like leaving your village?
I don’t like to go, I want to stay here, it’s like that. Whenever I’d go outside, my family would be there – how will it function, there are children, so there is always a worry: what they are eating, how they are doing, who is looking after them. My house is on an open field, if some bad incident occurs, nobody can run here to help. This is why I do not go out. If I have to, I’ll go, but I am not going for now. In Bardhaman, I went for 1 week, 15 days, 20 days. I stayed and then came back: that is different. But if I go to Kerala, I will have to go for a five-month tour. Then I cannot see them; this is why I don’t go.