Written in a mix of English and Hindi by Yogesh Uniyal, translated fully to English by Nirbhay Bhogal
Yogesh Uniyal is now a banking professional, currently working with Kotak Mahindra Bank, and has a Masters in Finance. He joined workshops lead by pandies’ theatre in 2006 and has performed in all the shows put up by the youth associated with Saksham, Nithari, including at the American Center, Delhi in 2010. A consistent performer and singer, he performs with the pandies’ besides doing street plays with Nithari friends and like-minded people on women’s education, cancer, and many other themes.
The Story of Rajesh
Somewhere in this wide, wide world, lived an eighteen-year-old boy (quite sensible and honest) going by the name of Rajesh, in a small village, where he had a family with his parents. Since childhood, Rajesh had always liked watching movies. Despite not having a television at home, he would commute a kilometre within their village, to the home of his paternal uncle ( being a good friend of his father’s) to watch movies on that uncle-by-sentiment’s TV. While watching a film at his uncle’s, one day Rajesh made a plan to venture outside their village after finishing his intermediate education. Rajesh had no idea that there was a huge gap, between this real world and the fictional world of movies, almost as if one were Purgatory and the other Heaven.
Rajesh’s Decision to go to Delhi
This is the story of that boy from an underprivileged family who came with big dreams to Delhi – “The City of Hearts, Brimming with Living and Giving” – leaving behind his village, his home, his parents, his everything. Rajesh had come to this city after completing his schooling with a great hope kindled in his heart – a desire to earn buckets of cash. But little did he imagine what he would lose while trying to fulfil that dream.
Living in their village home were Rajesh’s elderly parents. Leaving them behind and coming here wasn’t easy for him. But he left them and moved nevertheless, for his happiness and theirs, which revolved around his attaining a higher standard of living.
Rajesh’s life in Delhi
He started lodging in a room that he rented in “The City of Hearts, Brimming with Living and Giving, also The Capital of India”. He stumbled wandered around the city for two to three months, looking for a decent job. But he did not get any employment. Then he came across a person who promised to get him a job, in return for Rs 20,000.
Rajesh, gathered the money from multiple sources – including some remitted by his parents from the village on his request. He paid the agent an advance of Rs 15,000, and promised to pay the remainder after securing the job.
After waiting for many days, Rajesh secured this job in a company that would pay him Rs 9,000 a month, at a workplace that was 4 kms from his room in the city. This salary certainly sounded small as Rajesh had to pay for his lodgings, food, water…and also send some money home.
Every morning, he would walk to the company where he was employed. And, every evening, he would walk from there to his neighbourhood. He knew that every expense, such as commuting by vehicles in a city like Delhi, wasn’t possible on just Rs 9,000.
He threw himself with all his heart and mind into his nine-hour job. Many times, however, he was made to stay back and work for ten to twelve hours a day. That earned him Rs 70 for every extra hour. He continued to work with dedication. What he didn’t know was that you needed to be street smart to compound your dedication to get a raise in such a place. Even after working so hard, he wasn’t getting the increment or promotion that he was worthy of. He brought this up many times, in conversation with his manager, but the manager would keep evading him on this. After one year, Rajesh decided to leave the company. After quitting his job, he gave job interviews at many other companies, and eventually did get hired. He joined this other company on 1st January 2020.
In the new company, he was paid more than double his last salary, and he was happy that he could manage all his expenses. But his struggle had just started.
For two months, everything was fine. Then, suddenly, a disease called Corona started to fester and spread. Cases of its transmission were quickly increasing in India. Observing this COVID-outbreak, the Central Government declared a lockdown in all of India on 22nd March 2020. Rajesh and all other employees of his company were kicked out of their jobs.
When the fired employees protested, the company said, “Whoever have their own computers can work from home.” But employees who’d been hired only in the past two months, how were they supposed to afford a personal computer? Some of the employees still managed to arrange computers for themselves, and they were re-hired. But what about people like Rajesh?
Eventually, Rajesh too was fired, which was a huge blow for him. He had no means of livelihood. His monthly expenses were piling up, and the spectre of groceries loaned from his regular shops kept looming over him.
After losing his job, Rajesh sat in his room, spending time on the same old TV news channels. But none of these channels gave the truth: about how the pandemic was hurting families like his, how they were living, what was the solution, and what were the safeguards that were being put in place?
Who knows how many families had people like Rajesh, who lost their jobs? What on earth was Rajesh going to do now?
For ten days, Rajesh kept brooding over the job he’d lost. Rajesh asked a neighbouring Uncleji, “Would any of the nearby bungalows have need of car-cleaning personnel?” Uncleji was moved to tears by seeing him in such a state. He said to Rajesh, “Why would you…a computer-operating professional…be doing such work?” And he started providing Rajesh food from his own domestic kitchen.
But how long was he supposed to feed Rajesh? Uncleji’s wife would taunt every now and then. This eventually became too much for Rajesh to bear, and he decided once again to clean cars for a living.
Rajesh had been reduced to the condition of one who belonged neither here nor there. And he was worried about his parents. He was managing to arrange two meals’ worth on certain days, and not even one meal’s worth on other days. Some evenings he would line up, for a meal at food stalls, set up by anyone wishing to feed the poor. Other evenings, he would scrape together a meal in other ways. What else was he supposed to do? Borne to the City by Hopes, and Buoying Himself Against the Blows He Received, He Was Still Not Able to Get Enough Food.
A person contracted Corona in the neighbourhood. This cast a spell of fear over all the residents. Now all of them, including Rajesh, were taken to a hospital and tested in isolation. Rajesh tested negative, but he still had to suffer his neighbourhood being barricaded. Now nobody could either go out or come in. This meant Rajesh couldn’t go to clean cars in the morning. He had no means of arranging food for himself. For seven days, he subsisted on water and one meal a day.
He then somehow got permission for resuming cleaning cars for the rich. But back home in his village, his parents both contracted the virus, and they were soon in a critical condition.
Rajesh had no means of going back to his village, which was 700 kilometres away. He didn’t know what to do. He began to recall his old life in the village, when he lived without any tension, amidst the warmth and safety of his home. Whatever presumptions he’d had about Delhi, and big cities in general, were proving to be opposite of what he had hoped and dreamt. All he could think of was going back to living with his parents in the village. He wished to rid himself of his current situation come-what-may.
Initially, he couldn’t come up with a plan, since he didn’t know any route back to his village, even if he started back on foot. Finally, he decided that he would follow the rail track to reach his village. He started on this path, hungry and thirsty.
On the way, some people were handing out food to migrants like Rajesh, who were journeying back home. For two days, Rajesh kept walking like this, surviving on such charitable provisions somewhere or the other, and thus he would store food for breakfast as well at dinner.
One such night, after eating and storing the food for the next meal, he resumed walking along the railway line. That night, he felt very tired, so he lay down on the track. Exhausted, he drifted off to sleep.
That very night, a train passed by on those tracks. And, after that, his eyes never opened.
 Indian Currency rupees: $1= Rs76
 An elderly gentleman in often referred to as uncleji in North India, ji being an honorific title
Nirbhay Bhogal is a 32-year-old amateur actor, with pandies’ theatre since late 2014, when she first experienced with them an altogether improvisational mode of workshopping a script chosen by the group. She’s currently pursuing a Bachelors in English Literature and hopes to make a career out of translating literary and non-literary works from Hindi into English, and vice versa. She was involved with the tail end of pandies’ workshop theatre at pre-pandemic Saksham school in Nithari and has also co-facilitated Zoom-based workshop theatre with Shakti Shalini’s shelter for women survivors of gender-based violence.
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