IT’S A few minutes past 5.30 am, and the New Delhi Railway Station is coming to life, when an announcement cuts through the air. The Bihar Sampark Kranti Express from Darbhanga, it says, “will arrive on platform No 13 after a delay of one hour”. As the clock nears 6.30 am, there are no porters warming up, or running across the railway tracks to clamber on to the platform, to take their position — a usual sight when a long-distance passenger train arrives. “Most people who come on this train are in Delhi to look for work, they don’t hire us to carry their luggage,” says Devender, one of the porters at the station.
Minutes later, the train from Bihar to Delhi — among India’s top 10 trains in terms of passenger demand in 2016-17 — chugs into the platform with a long horn to signal the end of its 1,152-km journey. Some passengers are perched on the steps of the train’s doors, jumping down to the platform before the train comes to a halt. Inside, the train is packed, and some squeeze their way out through windows without bars that serve as the emergency exits.
Many of those that spill out finally are young men with small handbags or a backpack, some in groups of five or six, others looking disoriented. One of them is Mohammad Firoz Alam, a 19-year-old from Madhubani, who has reached Delhi for the first time. “There is nothing for me in my village. My parents are farmers but I did not want to work as one. I was with a printing press in Kolkata earlier, so I am hoping to get a job here, too,” says Alam, dressed in a yellow kurta-pyjama, a prayer cap on his head and a small backpack slung over his shoulder.
Suresh Kumar Saha, a 19-year-old from Darbhanga, is returning from a vacation to his tailoring job in Palam. “I have been staying in Delhi for the last five years and work in a factory, which makes clothes. I earn Rs 5,000-6,000 in a month so I am happy here. At home, we will not get such work,” says Saha. However, for some like Manoj Mandal, who has arrived with his wife and three children, the journey does not stop here. He works at a construction site in Bhatinda and plans to take a bus from Old Delhi to reach his destination.
“I moved out of my village in Madhubani in search of a job 12 years ago. I now earn around Rs 15,000 every month. After I got married, I decided to take my family along so that my children got good education. All of them now study at a government school in Bhatinda,” says Mandal. Mandal, his wife Parmila Devi and their children have two bags and a large white sack full of “rice and other things”. But they don’t engage a porter. Instead, Mandal lifts the sack and balances it on his head and the family walks away — to their next destination.