Pappu Yadav, 33
From Doda Chak village, Nalanda
Now paan stall owner in
MOHANLAL watches over him from a torn poster. But Pappu Yadav, a paanwallah sitting under a Metro pillar on the busy NH-47 that runs through Aluva town in Kerala’s Ernakulam district, doesn’t recognise the Malayalam superstar, so he has never been curious, he says. What he has been thinking about a lot these days, he admits, is the election back home in Bihar. “But I can’t read English. So I don’t know what’s happening there,” says Yadav, spreading out the betel leaf on his palm, deftly dipping into each of the steel containers that hold the recipe for his paan, rolling it and handing it out to his customers.
Yadav is 2,700 km from his home in Doda Chak village of Nalanda district in Bihar. He doesn’t get Hindi newspapers here and can’t watch the Bihari TV channels that he used to watch back home. Occasionally, when his younger brother Sanjay, a farm labourer, calls on his cellphone and they run out of things to say after chatting about his family, he talks about the election. “Though my brother has gone to school, he doesn’t know much politics,” he smiles.
Yadav knows his politics — and misses the action. “My brother told me it’s a tough election. I want Nitish Kumar to win,” he says. “My brother also told me that on voting day, JD(U) workers had come home. They wanted to take him to the booth. I would have gone home for the election, but I went four months ago. Paisa illa (not enough money),” he says, attempting a smattering of Malayalam.
He starts his day at 7.30 am and works until 9 pm. “I charge Rs 5 for a paan and earn about Rs 400 a day,” he says, adding that he sends home Rs 5,000 a month.
A government-commissioned study in 2013 had found that Kerala has around 25 lakh migrant workers, most of them engaged in the construction and service sectors. They are mostly from West Bengal, Odisha and Assam. The first migrants from the North started coming in early 2000 and were mostly brought by agents to work in the plywood units in Ernakulam district. The second half of the last decade witnessed an organised flow of workers into Kerala. Many of them have made Kerala their home.
Five years ago, Yadav took a train from Nalanda, changed trains at Chennai and got off at Aluva station, hoping to find work as a labourer. “My family owns one acre, where we grow paddy and potato. The income from the farm isn’t enough for my parents, wife, brother and four children. I had heard daily wages here are much higher than in Bihar. In our region in Rajgir block, daily wage is only Rs 200 and even then, we can’t be sure of getting work on all days. In Kerala, daily wages touch Rs 700,” he says.
His first few days in Kerala were tough, he says. Every morning, he would line up with hundreds of migrant workers at various traffic junctions in Aluva, hoping someone would pick him up for the day’s work. The work he did on his field in the village didn’t give him a chance to pick any other skills, so he could only offer to do manual labour. For some days, he toiled as a construction worker, but “it was hard work”.
“Besides, the work was very irregular and there were days we got no work. That’s when I decided to start selling paan. I know many others from my state who are paanwallahs in Kerala,” he says. He shares a single room in Aluva town with four other people from Bihar.
Five years after he arrived, Yadav can’t speak much Malayalam — only “korachu korachu (very little)”. “Customers come to buy paan. They don’t talk much or bargain. I too have little to speak,” he says.
Though he likes Kerala, he knows he will have to eventually go back to Bihar. “But I am not thinking of going back anytime soon. Not until I have made some money.”