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The temporary migrants

mumbai Updated: Aug 31, 2010 01:13 IST

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This is a bunch of seasonal migrants only a city like Mumbai could attract. While for the faithful, the holy month of Ramzan is a time for fasting, feasting, praying and doing good deeds, for these poor people it is a time to take the train to Mumbai to make the most of Ramzan benevolence.

Every year, just before Ramzan begins, they leave their homes in Gujarat, from Vapi to villages along the Gujarat-Rajasthan border, and come to Mumbai to beg on the streets and do odd jobs that will fetch them an extra buck.

At least 2,000 of them, members of the Khekhar and Banjara tribal communities, arrive in Mumbai, aging parents, pregnant wives, crying babies in tow, and make public spaces, such as the skywalk in Andheri, their home.

Every morning, they wake up and fan out across the city, from Malad to Mohammad Ali Road, and beg at traffic lights and in busy markets. They leave their belongings behind. Tied in old sarees, they leave the bundles up on trees. This, they hope, will keep their belongings out of reach of thieves.

Young boys also wipe cars at traffic lights to make that little extra.

Streets such as those off Mohammad Ali Road, that come alive after sunset when Muslims break their fast, are popular among these people because devout Muslims believe in donating as much as they can to the poor during this month.

“Rs 500 to Rs 600 a day, per head,” said one of them when asked how much they make during their month-long stay here. They refused to give their names. “How does it matter?” they asked, smiling.

As the day ends, they retire on skywalks, under flyovers, wherever they can protect themselves from the rain. They take turns to stand guard as the others sleep.