Suresh Dhodi is married to Maharashtra, but flirts with Gujarat.
So does every other man and woman in Girgaon village, 130 km north of Mumbai, hugging the Gujarat border.
The Maharashtra village empties out every day as hundreds of people take autorickshaws across the border to work in an industrial enclave there.
Jobs and governance have not reached Maharashtra’s fringes.
Located in the dust-ridden backyard of the satellite town of Thane and the country’s commercial capital Mumbai, Girgaon’s political interests lie in Maharashtra but the people here are more concerned about Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s industrial policies.
“We vote here but our livelihood comes from Gujarat,” says 34-year-old Dhodi, who plies one of the many Gujarat-registered autorickshaws that ferry passengers across the border every day.
Dressed in a white T-shirt and faded brown trousers, Dhodi raves about how it is easier to get a vehicle registered and get a driving permit in Gujarat.
Most residents of the area are from the agrarian Dhodi community. They studied in Marathi-medium schools but speak Gujarati equally fluently.
About 15 km away, employment opportunities could transform the lives of people in Talassary, where some 70 per cent live below the poverty line and cellphones and cable TV are luxuries.
Locals rely on daily labour or self-employment because there is cultivable land, but no irrigation facilities.
So, every morning, villagers of this chikoo-growing village stuff themselves into autorickshaws by the dozen and head to the pen, plastic and garment factories located in an industrial enclave in Gujarat’s Umbergaon.
On their way, their addo (Gujarati for hangout spot) is ‘Prabhu ni dukaan’ (Prabhu’s shop), a rickety tea stall situated at a tri-junction.
Here, 51-year-old Prabhu Dhodi has watched it all — right from the time he set up the shop, when he failed to find work as a young man.
“Almost 80 per cent of our village works in GIDC [Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation],” says Prabhu, seated on a wooden bench outside his stall. “There is nothing for us in Talassary, and Gujarat is closer than Thane or Mumbai. Only those who have chikoo orchards can afford to not work at the GIDC.”
Under a tree across the road from Prabhu’s shop a girl barely 10 years old carefully lays out vegetables from her father’s farm and sits down to wait for customers.
Two boys riding a motorbike stop at the tea stall.
Satish and Dipesh Dhodi have just returned from GIDC. They work in a pen factory for Rs 120 a day and do not get paid for their weekly day off.
“We are working for Gujarat’s progress,” laughs Satish, a 22-year-old who lost his father and works to support his mother, who earns a living selling chikoos.
Arts graduate Ritesh Dhodi (21) overhears the conversation and joins in.
He just passed out of college and will soon begin to look for a job, he says.
Dressed in a crisp pink, formal shirt and jeans, he reads a Marathi newspaper as the others speak.
“I’ll be voting for the second time,” he says, putting the paper away. “And we expect the government to do something for youngsters like us.”
Ritesh is not sure if he will also end up in Gujarat. And the others are not sure how long they will have their GIDC jobs.
“We are on contract and our services could be terminated any time,” says Dipesh (28), a Class 8 dropout. “We want the new government to get us jobs that are permanent. Until then, our days are for Gujarat and our nights are for Maharashtra.”