In a hope to make a better life, Ram Asray Chauhan, 59, landed at Derabassi in Punjab from Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh, 31 years back in 1989. In 1995, he entered the business of selling Jalebis (funnel cakes), the art of preparing which he had mastered after learning it from his uncle.
For 25 years, Chauhan earned a decent living and great popularity among the city-dwellers by selling the deep-fried sweets to hundreds. However, the 45 days of lockdown has brought it to a halt- as he struggles to earn the daily bread for his family of nine and thus, he says, has been compelled to leave for his native place, Jaunpur.
Chauhan, who lived at Zirakpur during his initial days, resides in Punjab’s Derabassi now, with his wife, five sons, and two nephew in a rented accommodation for Rs 7,000 per month.
He says that for the first 15 years, he ran the Jalebi rehri on his own, but as the rush of people increased, his sons Rattan and Pritam also got involved in the business. It has been ten years, since the two have been engaged in managing the Jalebi rehri, learning the art from their father.
“We were successful in the Jalebi business. We earned around Rs 20,000 per month and thus, also managed to buy some land at our native town, Jaunpur. Everything was going well, but since March 22, our work has been completely suspended due to the curfew imposed in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak,” says Chauhan.
“We obeyed the government’s lockdown sincerely and were hoping that the lockdown will end by May 4 and then, we will be able to continue our work. But now, we assume that it will take at least a year for the situation to get back to normal. We will starve here if we do not go back to our native village,” adds Chauhan.
Chauhan’s 27-year-old elder son, Rattan says that there is no hope for work to resume, and neither do they want to change their line of business to become a vegetable vendor, as there is high risk of contracting the infection while selling vegetables. “We have been trying to register ourselves for the train which will run to Uttar Pradesh as we cannot hire a private vehicle, which is charging Rs 60,000 for taking us to UP,” says Rattan, adding, “We just want to reach our native town. The government should help us. We will be happy living at our village. We can at least survive there.”
Another daily wager, Rajender Singh alias Raju, a native of Bettiah in Bihar, who had been living in a car garage at Derabassi for the past 25 years, faces a similar ordeal. “The garage is closed since the lockdown began. Until this ends, I will not be able to get my salary from the owners. I need to send money to my family in Bihar every month. But, I am not even able to fill my own stomach here,” says Rajender.
“I do not have an option but to move back to my native town. If the train registration is done, I will board the train or I will go walking to Bihar,” he adds.