Excited, nervous, panicky: 10 stranded migrants board their ‘first flight’ of lifetime to reach Patna
Would they be allowed to enter with slippers? What would happen when the plane takes off? Would they be safe? The questions raced through the minds of 10 migrants on Thursday as they readied to fly home from New Delhi to Bihar, an unforgettable first flight made possible by the generosity of their employer, a farmer in the national capital.
Getting through airport formalities was intimidating but they had help from an official who guided them till the plane. Excited, nervous and a little panicky as they settled in their seats, many closed their eyes as the plane taxied and then tilted sharply at take-off, Naveen Ram, among the 10 workers taking their debut flight, told PTI after landing in Patna.
Some of them put their heads down on the table in front as the plane steadied in the skies, not daring to look out of the window even when the flight landed, Naveen said.
All 10 farm workers, stuck in Delhi because of the coronavirus forced lockdown, belong to Samastipur in Bihar. They had never dreamed they would get on a plane but they did thanks to Pappan Singh, a mushroom farmer in Delhi’s Tigipur village, who bought their tickets.
Recounting the experiences of the morning, one which they will remember all their lives, Naveen said people at the Delhi airport were looking at them when they entered carrying jute bags and wearing slippers.
“We were not well-dressed like others. We didn’‘t know what we should do next after entering the airport because it was our first experience of travelling in a plane. We took the help of an airline official,” the 27-year-old said. A reporter from PTI, which first reported their story, helped arrange for an official to escort them through the airport and complete the formalities.
Naveen, too, did not look out when the plane was taking off and landing.
“We had been wanting to meet our families for some time but could not do so because of the lockdown, None of us had ever thought that we would be going home in a plane one day,” he said.
But that was not the end of the thrilling ride for the group, catapulted to national news at a time when migrant stories are made of arduous journeys battling hunger and heat on foot, cycle, bus or train.
Several mediapersons were waiting to interview them when they landed at Patna after the 6 am flight from Delhi, said Naveen’s fellow traveller and co-worker Jitender Ram.
“We never expected to get so much attention. Yesterday, my friend phoned me, saying he was watching me on a news channel. We will always remember such a wonderful experience,” Jitender said.
Asked whether he will come back to Delhi after the lockdown is over, Naveen said, “Definitely, we will come back to Delhi when our ‘malik’ calls us.” “How can we leave our employer who has cared for us so much? We will be returning by the end of August. We have promised him,” added Lakhindra Ram as his co-travellers nodded vigorously in agreement. Full of praise for their employer, who saw them off in Delhi saying that he looked forward to their return, the group left for Samastipur district from Patna airport in a vehicle arranged by their employer.
Pappan Singh, who has helped rewrite the migrant narrative of tragedy and helplessness, said he called his workers every step of the way, from after they entered Delhi airport to when they stepped into the plane -- asking if all was okay, if they had taken their boarding passes, checked in their bags and safely made their way to the gate. “I wanted everyone to give them respect the way I do. I was very concerned as my workers were not well-dressed like other passengers. Some of them were wearing slippers and carrying jute bags.
“I am happy that they have finally reached their home state,” Pappan told PTI.
Pappan had booked tickets worth Rs 68,000 and gave each Rs 3,000 in cash so they did not face any problems when they reach their home state.
He had completed all their medical formalities, in accordance with the requirements specified, so they have a smooth journey home. “These 10 workers would have left for their homes in Bihar in the first week of April on train but they could not go due to the lockdown,” he said, adding that he had made several attempts to send them back to their home state in a Shramik Special train but could not manage to do so. “I could not have taken a risk by allowing my workers to walk thousands of miles as it would have put their lives in danger because we are getting to know these days that migrants meet road accidents while going home,” he said. PTI BUN NAC SNS MIN MIN MIN MIN