Day 14 – February 12, 2011 Delhi

Even though I was on a break from the Shodh Yatra while on work in Delhi, I still managed to get some glimpses which are worth recording.

Metro Rider – A Migrant Worker from Bihar

I got into the Metro at the Ghitorni station to go to Mandi House, where I had planned to meet my wife Savita for lunch at the Triveni Art Gallery’s  cafereria  – an old hang out from my IIT Delhi days of 35 years ago.  A few stations later, as many people got off, I managed to get a sitting place.  A few moments later I noticed my neighbour on the right.  He looked like a manual worker.  I struck up a conversation asking him whether he is going to New Delhi railway station.  “Yes”, he said. Where was he going from the station?  “I am going to catch the Vikramshila Express to Kiul”.

I had lucked out!  In my years in Bihar,  I had gone past Kiul station both by train and road scores of times, while commuting between the rural  development projects I use to work in the Gaya and Jamui districts.  I told him I have lived in Jamui and asked him where his village was.  “I am from  village Aliganj,  police station Sikandara, district Nawada. My name is Kishorilal Rawani. I also use Chandrvanshi as surname.”  What does he do in Delhi?  “I work as a diesel filler for a fleet of trucks in a construction firm in Gurgaon.  I earn Rs 170 per day for a 12 hours shift.  I get paid for every day of the month and I also get free accommodation in the jhujjis (temporary, low height structures with a single brick wall and corrugated tin roofs) in the construction site.”

How much does he spend on himself and what does he save?  “I managed to send home Rs 3000 per month.” How does he send it?  “I put it in the bank account of one of my village friends (there are 30 -40 of us working in Delhi and 4-5 have a bank accounts).  At the other end,  my family withdraws it from the ATM using the card that my friend has left with his wife.”  Does the friend charge for anything for this?  “No, no, this is how we help each other in Pardes. For example, when somebody loses a job, we all help out in terms of sharing food and accommodation and looking for work.  Also if somebody is sick, we look after each other”.

Is there any medical care provided by the construction firm?  “Yes, if somebody gets injured on the site, they rush him to the doctor. And one nurse comes to the site twice a week if we have any fever or stomach problems.  But her medicines don’t work so we have to go and see the doctor with our own money.  Actually, now I work for a contractor.  But till about a year ago I used to work for DLF Lanruk (I knew he was referring to DLF Lang O’Rourke).  There I used to earn Rs 280 per day for 26 days a month”.  Why did he leave that and take a lower paid job?  “DLF is Indian and Lanruk is Videshi.  They didn’t get along with each other and the company closed.  DLF people keep buying disputed land and building.,  so many times construction stops in the middle.  Lanruk didn’t like that.  So they left.”

He has seen many houses being built in Gurgaon by DLF. Has he built house of his own in the village?  “ Yes, I got my turn under Indira Awas Yojana.  I got Rs 45,000 in two instalments and with some of my own contribution that was enough to build a two room pakka house.”  Did he have to run around or  pay a bribe?  “I am a Dalit, so they had a target. It took only two months and they only took Rs 5000 from me to sanction the Rs 45,000.”

My change station Rajiv Chowk had come.  I thanked Kishorilal for all the information he gave and wished him all the best for his trip home.  He invited me to come and see him in his village the next time I am in the vicinity.

If you would like another view on migrant workers in Guragon, pls click on the news item:

The Rajiv Chowk station was exceptionally crowded.  I  got out of the blue line and looked  for the yellow line to the Mandi House, which was just two stops away but the manner in which people had lined up in a discipline way was something remarkable.   I could not get on to the first train that came because of the long queue ahead of me but I made it to the second one.

A view of Triveni Kala Sangam entrance. Looming behind is Sriram Bhartiya Kala Kandra

In a few minutes I reached Mandi House, the cultural centre of Delhi whose radial roads house the National School of Drama, the Rabindra Bhavan, which has the Sangeet Natak Academy, the Sahitya Academy and the Lalit Kala Academy, the Kamani Auditorium, the Shriram Centre for Art and Culture, Sapru House (famous for its risqué Punjabi plays like “Chadhi Jawani Buddhe Noo”,  the  Triveni Art Gallery, and last but not the least the Head quarter of Doordarshan).  During my five years in IIT, Delhi from 1970-75 this was where one used to come to see some great plays.  In those days Ibrahim Elkazi was the director of the National School of the Drama and I recall seeing several productions of Bertholt Brecht and of major Indian play wrights, directed by Elkazi saheb.  The most memorable one were three plays, set in the Purana Quila ruins, depicting what would have happened in that location – Andha Yug, a reconstruction of the Mahabharata; Razia Sultana about the power play  surrounding this lonely Queen during the medieval ages; and Tuglak the quixotic King who was foresighted, even if impractical .

As I came out of the station to the street level I saw a vendor carrying knives and scissors on his bicycle.  Since there was no crowd and he did not seem have any customer, I thought I should interview him.

Mohammed Ismail - a vendor of knives

This is Mohammed Ismail from the village Mahaluka, Tehsil Hathil,  Palwal district of Haryana, which is about 50 kms away from Delhi, in the Mewat region?  Mewat is land of Meos, a distinct community of Muslims who are exceptionally disadvantaged even though they live in the national capital region districts of Alwar, Nuh, Palwal, etc.

Md Ismail started coming to Delhi over 20 years ago.  His wife and six children continue tolive in the village. He buys about Rs 2000 worth of ready to sell knives and scissors from Sadar Bazar. By the end of the week he is able to sell it for about Rs 3000.  He goes home almost every two weeks to give some money to his wife.  How does he manage Rs 4000 per month, with eight mouths to feed?  Does he have any land in the village?  “No we have no land and no cattle.  My wife only takes care of the children.  We have to somehow manage in what I earn” .

Would it help if he did some other business?  “Yes, I can sell other things like ladies garments but then I need to invest at least Rs 20000 to buy the stock.”  Has he ever taken a loan?  “Who will give us a loan? To get a loan of Rs 50,000 they want us to spend Rs 10,000.  After that how  can I repay the full Rs 50,000 and interest on it?  My brother was offered a loan of Rs 5 lakh provided he would pay Rs 1 lakh in advance.  If we had Rs 1 lakh why would we take the loan? “ Does he get any help from the Wakf Board, such as  a loan without interest, along the lines of  Islamic principles?  “No, we don’t get anything from the Wakf. Even though taking and giving of interest is not allowed in Islam, we have to do it as we have no other choice.”    He says he even though he studied for 5 years in the madrasa, he is educating his children and after his eldest son passes 12th class, he would like to put him in the government ITI.  I thank Md Ismail for talking to me and posing for a video and move on.

As  I cross the road I see the sign board below:

A Tribute to Safdar Hashmi”

A talented wrtier, actor and theatre directo,r Safdar Hashmi and his theatre group the Jana Natya Manch (Janam) were attackedon 1st January 1989  in the labour colony of Sahibabad, on the outskirts of Delhi while performing a play.  Safdar was injured badly and died in a hospital the next day.  Three days later, hundreds of people marched from Mandi House to Sahibabad and the Jana Natya Manch group performed their unfinished play, ironically called Natak Jari Hai (The Show Goes On).  I was away as a mid-career fellow at the Princeton University when this happened in 1989.  On 12th April, 1989,  Safdar’s birthday, a National Street Theatre festival was held with 30,000  performances all over India!  Since then, April 12 is celebrate as the National Street Theatre Day.

On the second anniversary of Safdar’s death, a broad coalition called Artists Against Communalism (AAC) was formed and they staged a 16 hour dharna at Mandi House.   This was the time when the hysteria related to the Babri Masjid had gripped the nation and every village was manufacturing bricks to send to Ayodhya, based on the slogan “Mandir Wahin Banayenge”.

In the mean time, the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) was formed by his wife Moloyashree and it continued to publish Safdar’s works and promote other activities to keep his progressive ideas alive.  I was “a fellow traveller” of SAHMAT and the AAC for a few years.  The high point was on 15th Acugust 1993, when along with Raja Khan, my dear young colleague, who had a Muslim father and a Hindu mother,  I went to Ayodhya. We went to Lucknow by train and then from there in a bus load full of SAHMAT  supporters, singing revolutionary songs on the way.  We lived in a dharamsala in Ayodhya and bathed in the Saryu river, on the ghats of which  SAHMAT had organised  the Muktnaad festival with great music by artists like Pandit Jasraj and  Rajan and Sajan Misra.

Song by Jana Natya Manch on 20th Safdar Hashmi Shahadat Diwas

One of the Safdar’s great gifts was writing children’s poetry.  His trans-creation of  the Pied Piper of Hamlyn into Hindustani, titled Bansuriwala  is enchanting for children.   I must have read it a dozen times to my kids – Chirag and Chandni and to “cousins” Amna and Shantanu,  andAmbika  and Bhaskar.  His illustrated books of poems include Holi, Bagh ki Sair and Sarey Mausam Achchey and  Gadbad Ghotala,  a set of nonsense rhymes with unlikely pictures.  It begins with

Yeh kaisi hai ghotala, Ki chabi mein hai tala?

Yet, 22 years after Safdar was killed we still have festering communalism.  And during the interim we have seen the Gujarat riots, the anti Christian violence in Orissa and Karnataka, the continued exile of the Kashmiri Pandits as the terrorist violence and impasse in Kashmir refuses to be resolved.

See a video tribute to Safdar Hashmi at


About vijaymahajan

Educated at St XaviersSchool, Jaipur; IIT Delhi; IIM Ahmedabad and Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, USA; Co-founder of several development organisations - BASIX (, PRADAN (, Development Finance Forum (, Andhra Pradesh Mahila Abhivruddhi Society (, Sa-Dhan ( and the Microfinance Institutions Networrk ( Chair of CGAP Excom; BASIX Boards; DSC Board; Board member of MSSRF, ASSEFA, Gram Vikas Honours - WEF Davos Schwab Social Entrepreneur; Ashoka Global Fellow; IIT Delhi Distinguished Alumni Award; HSBC-Access Award for Outstanding Contribution to Microfinance in India; listed among India's top 50 most powerful people in India by BusinessWeek, Asia edition, 2010 Married to Savita, Deputy Dean, ISB, Hyderabad; two children, Chirag and Chandni
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One Response to Day 14 – February 12, 2011 Delhi

  1. Atul says:

    Sir, your posts are so interestingly readable and give such a nice perspective on several issues!

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