Chinnappa alighted from the train and was waiting for his friend Kittappa. As he was totally new to the place, Chinnappa had specifically told Kittappa to come to Railway Station to take him along. In not finding him, he called Kittappa on phone and wanted to know if he was anywhere nearby. Kittappa picked up the phone and replied. As the train was late, he could not come to station as promised. His presence at worksite was more important. So, he guided him to come on his own by engaging an autorickshaw.
As the autorickshaw winded through roads and alleys Chinnappa was amazed to see tall buildings, non-stop heavy traffic, vendors of all sorts on both sides of roads. All brisk and busy. That very sight of all people running around busily here and there made him believe that he too would soon be a part of such a hustle-bustle life. He was sure of getting settled in this big city. Once he got into a good job, he would immediately get his family to Pune. He was soaring high in his dreams, before when the auto driver stopped his vehicle and said, Destination reached.”
Chinnappa looked around for his friend. There he came running with his helmet on. Kittappa took him to a make-shift shelter room in that big construction complex. After refreshing themselves and exchange of updates, Kittappa took him to his Supervisor cum Foreman. Chinnappa was still looking at the tall structures with cranes and pulleys. He was counting the number of floors each building would have. So many storeys! It was awesome. He felt proud to be getting employed in erecting such a huge structure.
Foreman stared at Chinnappa and then said as all workmen had already reported for work, there was no vacancy right now for Chinnappa. He could be absorbed only on temporary basis and that too on leave vacancy. Chinnappa had no choice. Better wait. Chinnappa was forced to take rest and wait for his day.
Evening Kittappa took him to his so-called house. It was in a narrow dingy area, full of chaos, noisy people, barking stray dogs, semi clad small kids running around, overflowing dustbins and filthy waste things strewn all over …. On the whole a very unhealthy surrounding, a typical slum area. The condition of Kittappa’s house was much worse. The construction site where he was working and the house where he was dwelling were miles apart in every aspect. Chinnappa was a silent spectator to the harsh reality. Sometime before he felt proud to be employed like Kittappa, in a big establishment. Now he felt how difficult it would be for him to adjust to a small living space like this. Compared to this rat-hole, his house in his native place Kadappa was a big palace. He did not say anything. Quite likely that he had to prepare himself for more painful hard facts. A freak of thought ran in his mind. ‘Did I make a wrong choice of coming here in search of livelihood? Do I have to regret? Can I go back? But I am yet to start my day here. Oh! Ganapathi Bappa! Please show me a way.’
Kittappa’s wife, Bangaru greeted them. She served them a simple hot food with warmth love and care. That was the only bright feature he noticed in this house. Both Kittappa and Chinnappa came out and had a long walk and talk session. Kittappa was telling him about his early days of struggles upon coming here to this city. It was not a path of roses. He tumbled a lot at every step. There was no Godfather for him. That was one reason why he went out of the way to help people from his native place. At the same time, he made it very clear that he was not in a position to lend support to anyone for a long time.
The message was loud and clear that Chinnappa had to look for his own arrangements for food and shelter. For anything and everything, first requirement was a job offer. The foreman to whom he was introduced in the morning said he could provide job only against any leave vacancy. If at all any leave-vacancy sprung up it was not sure if he would be fixing him or anybody already in waiting would be given that job.
Chinnappa begged Kittappa to somehow get him some job so that he would not be a burden on his shoulders. Any job, any type, big or small, high or low nothing mattered. As he was pleading, one of Kittappa’s friend Pawar crossed him. They both exchanged pleasantries. While introducing Chinnappa to him, Kittappa said that he was in dire need of a job. Pawar looked seriously at Chinnappa up and down as though judging him by his mere sight. Then he asked.
“Will you do anything, if asked to carry out?” He gave little pressure on ‘anything’ and emphasized on it. Chinnappa was simply waiting for an opportunity. He readily agreed. In his eagerness to grab the job offer, he said he was prepared for any hard work and that he would complete the task to the full satisfaction of his masters. Kittappa’s wife just then called him urgently to attend to one of their children’s needs and so he left abruptly.
Both Pawar and Chinnappa were left to themselves. Pawar put his hand on Chinnappa’s shoulder and comforted him. “Nothing difficult. It is an easy job only and just for a few days. But I assure you, you will get handsome payment. I will give the name and address of the person for whom you have to work. You go and meet him there. You just say that Pawar sent you. He will guide you. He is a very influential person. If selected, he may ask you to join some more people whom I had already sent earlier. You are really lucky. That is why right on day-one of your landing here, you are getting a lucrative offer.”
Chinnappa was on cloud nine. As pointed out by Pawar, he too felt he was lucky. ‘From tomorrow, I will earn my bread. How much pay I will get, I don’t know. But I should be careful enough to spend as little as possible and save as much as possible. Only then I can survive in this big city.’ He remembered Pawar’s words. The job was going to be for few days only. Afterwards, again he might be in the look out of a fresh job vacancy. So, saving was very-very crucial.
With lots and lots of hopes and anxiety, he went to the address given by Pawar. There were many people waiting to see the influential boss. He joined those already in waiting. In the course of waiting for appointment, he learnt that the job that was to be offered was nothing but to go and add strength and moral support to a group of aggrieved people who wanted their voice to be heard by the Government. They were also having a written petition. Chinnappa did not pay much attention to what the issue was and why they wanted to muster strength. All that mattered most was, he should be selected and he should be paid for it.
Suddenly, he heard a familiar voice and he turned around. He was surprised to see his boyhood friend from his village along with some more men from his neighbouring villages. They too had come for the same purpose of mustering strength to the aggrieved protesters. Meeting their own people at a far-off place was really a matter of joy and an immense source of security and strength. Chinnappa felt quite at ease. All of them got introduced to themselves and learnt that they were almost on same waters and in same boat. After meeting them he understood that they were all sent here by local political party agents. The political party wanted to prove their power and majority by organizing a protest against the ruling party.
Very soon a man in their party attire and its badge came and counted the members assembled there and announced that all of them were taken on job. He then distributed a pamphlet. It contained some slogans. He said they had to assemble in a row and every tenth man was their leader who would shout the first line of the slogan and the rest had to repeat the next line or the remaining words. Everything was clearly given in the slogan. He emphasized on solidarity and discipline. He said,
“Your work is very simple. All you have to do is recite the slogans and reach the venue. The rally should be successful. You will be marching towards the venue where our volunteers will greet you and accommodate you. There are already some of our people who are waiting for you there. Once this rally reached there and you are all settled down there, our leader will address you all and explain in detail about this burning issue affecting our poor peasants. Your rousing reception is the symbol of success of rally and our protest. We have already arranged for your parcel of food packet and your pocket money. As soon as the meeting is over, it will be given to you. All of you. Each and every one of you will get it. This is for today and the next five days. Remember to assemble here daily for next five days also.” All those assembled there including Chinnappa clapped their hands and welcomed the move.
Chinnappa was still in his mixed feelings. He was neither excited not saddened. ‘What sort of a job is this?’ He asked his fellow members from his village. They simply accepted the offer as a good one. “After all we are migrant labourers and whatever we get, let us accept it. Any labour is good. There is no stigma attached. There is nothing called below-dignity as long as we do not indulge in anything harmful.” Chinnappa was convinced. They promised to meet again next day.
Chinnappa came home and met Kittappa and told him about the day’s developments. He showed the cover containing pocket money. Yes, it was quite a lot of money for the service he rendered at the rally. Kittappa just cautioned him that getting engaged in political activities might be very attractive in the beginning but not so in the long run. Political rivalry and enmity at top level would soon percolate down the stream and pose a big threat to life.
Next day when Chinnappa met his people they took him aside and told him that they were not keen on participating in the day’s rally. They told him in low whispers that some members from some other rally were shouting slogans not as given in the pamphlet. His boyhood friend Munisamy said,
“Do you know yesterday, they were shouting slogans against our country, our Indian nation, our mighty soldiers, our freedom fighters and the current ruling party bigwig people. Punjab Hoga Khalistan, Kashmir Hoga Pakistan was the main slogan. I cannot eschew these clandestine slogans and be a silent partner to all these nonsenses. My grandparents had actively participated in India’s freedom struggle and even suffered jail terms. My father was known for his selfless service to our village. I cannot stand this unruly behaviour and be a passive member. I am very strong about it. I am not attending the rally at all.”
Chinnappa was in utter confusion. He too did not like unpatriotic activities. But here he had come for a mere role of being a passive member … go with the rally, sit there, come back collect food and pocket money. The pocket money offered was also a good sum. He told them that Kittappa also warned him not to indulge in too much political activities.
Munisamy then said, “Let us do one thing. I put my yesterday’s pocket money of Rs 1500/- as my initial payment. Because I was the lead- monitor to raise the slogan, they gave me this amount. Yes. Lucrative. But it is not worth anymore. If you people also join me and with our combined capital of about Rs 5000/- or so, we can start a vegetable stall or fruit shop. Why, we can even think of setting up a juice corner. A humble start but an honest one. What do you say?” He looked at everyone. Chinnappa was undecided. His other friends too were still pondering. But one thing was sure. They were not keen on taking part in the rally.
Munisamy took them to a nearby tea stall for a deeper discussion and detailed conversation over setting up their own start-ups. After a long pause, Chinnappa placed his hands on Munisamy’s and said, “Muni, I am with you. I saw Kittappa living in shambles. Even if a get a job as a construction worker, I cannot sustain myself. Through thick or thin, I will stand by you. Let us see what we can do for helping ourselves.” Others too were caught in the same wave and all were mentally prepared to start one shop. What-when how-where were yet to be finalised. But they decided the name of the shop they would be starting. ‘Ganpathy Bappa‘or ‘PANDAV’ because they were five of them.
The teaseller got interested in their conversation. He offered his advises. He said, “Come on guys. You set up a Dosa stall here next to my shop and also set up a juice corner. I will help you to my banker so that you can take loan by using your initial capital as margin money. Even I was a migrant labour initially when I came here. So, I have my sympathy for fellow migrants.”
By his assurance and motivating advises, the men who were going for rally now turned into entrepreneurs were thrilled and the entire atmosphere got changed into a place of mirth and merry making.
Both Munisamy and Chinnappa were laughing at one point. If they took part in the rally, Munisamy would have easily got 7500/- an amount which was more than a lottery jackpot for him. Similarly, Chinnappa too would have garnered 5000/- as his share, an easy money. They never dreamt of applying for this job but were into it. Now that they got it, they disliked it and wantonly quit the same.
The rest of the friends too joined their mirth and fun. They said,
“We too never dreamt of applying for the job of a hotelier cum entrepreneur. But we are now going to like it.”
They started somewhere and ended up elsewhere. All for good!