Plumber travels on truck from Maharashtra for 5 days to reach West Bengal
The only reason 27-year-old Salim Laibh and his family travelled by truck for five days to reach their village in West Bengal, is that they had run out of options. “We ran out of money and other essentials that are necessary for everyday life,” said Laibh, who is now at an isolation centre in Bengal’s Cooch Behar district.
Laibh lived with his brother, sister-in-law and their one-year-old daughter in a chawl in Panvel. Before the lockdown left him without work, he was a plumber associated with a number of housing societies in the area. As Covid-19 spread, the Laibhs grew nervous. Not only were they stretched for cash, every day there were rumours of people from their chawl contracting Covid-19.
When the Shramik Special trains were announced in early May, Laibh was initially hopeful. “It is not that I didn’t try to travel by train, but for a long time the police officers kept saying the trains are not going to Howrah as of now. So, the registration process couldn’t be started,” said Laibh.
Ultimately, the family decided to travel by truck. “We coughed up ₹3,500 per head to travel to the village,” said Laibh, adding that their departure was delayed because there were “many cancellations”.
On May 17, Laibh, his brother, sister-in-law and their one-year-old daughter, began their journey to Bengal on a small truck crammed with 20 others like them. The truck would be their home for the next five days. The journey took longer than expected because the truck driver chose a roundabout route to avoid being detected by cops. Occasionally, they would wait for sunset so that they could evade highway patrols.
There wasn’t enough space for all of them to lie down so the travellers set up a rotation system: some stood for hours so that others could stretch their legs, and then others stood so that the first group could lie down.
“Among so many people, nobody knew who might be infected. We were all terrified,” said Laibh.
In addition to the summer heat, there was soon a shortage of food. Most of the shops along the highways were closed because of the lockdown. “While we could bear the heat and hunger, the little one was cranky throughout the way,” said Laibh, remembering his one-year-old niece. “She was not drinking milk. It was really difficult to manage her,” he said.
The only respite came once the sun set. Laibh remembers sitting in the truck and waiting for the cool breeze at night.
The Laibhs reached their village on May 22 and have since been living in a school that has been converted into the local isolation centre. Laibh hopes to come back to Mumbai soon.
“I have a very small plot here. But farming is not enough. There is no industry. I will definitely come back once the situation is normal in Mumbai,” he said.