Ramesh Pal used to drive an autorickshaw in Mumbai’s Borivali suburb. He shared a rented room with three other members of the trade: Hari Narayan Pal, Ram Harish Pal and Durgesh Pal. All four hailed from Uttar Pradesh’s Deoria district. When the lockdown kicked off on May 25 and everything was shut down, these autorickshaw drivers decided to stay back in Mumbai.
However, when the third phase of the lockdown began on May 4, they started getting anxious. After much deliberation and analysing the situation, the four men decided to embark on a journey back to their native place in Deoria. When it came to deciding the conveyance for their 1,700-kilometre journey, they didn't have much of a choice.
Speaking to News18 on the Lucknow-Barabanki highway on Wednesday after covering nearly 1,400 kilometres from Borivali in an autorickshaw, Ramesh Pal said, “We all used to live in the same room and with each passing day it was getting difficult with absolutely no income. Also, there was just one toilet which many people used. Infection was rising and we could have fallen prey to the coronavirus as maintaining hygiene became difficult. So we all decided to head back to our villages. We left Mumbai on Sunday at around 3pm and will reach Deoria on Thursday. We just want to get back to our families and be with them. At the moment, we don’t have any work or any field of ours in the village, but we will see what we have to do for a living once this crisis ends. Returning to Mumbai is definitely not on our minds at the moment."
On being asked about the problem they had faced during their journey, Hari Narayan Pal said, “We have stopped counting our problems now. We just want to make it back to our families.”
When asked about the fuel availability for the CNG autorickshaw they were riding in, Ramesh Pal said, “Being mainly run on CNG, this auto has a fuel capacity of mere 2 litre of petrol and refuelling this petrol tank was a challenge. On 2 litres of petrol, this auto runs for around 40 kilometres, and after every 40 kilometres we are pouring 2 litre of petrol in the tank to keep it going. There is a separate can of 15 litres in which we have stored petrol; we are also filling that canister up at different places. We have forgotten the count now of how many times we have stopped and put petrol in the tank.”
Sitting next to Ramesh was Ram Harish Pal, holding a plate full of soaked chickpeas and diced onions. “We are eating this to maintain our strength. Also we have bought a lot of green chillies. While driving down from Mumbai we got roti-sabzi at one place and a food packet at another place. But we are relying on food material we have brought along with us.” Sitting on the driving seat, Hari Narayan Pal pointed towards a bottle of water which he said was mixed with sugar, salt and lime to keep them hydrated. Durgesh Pal, the fourth auto driver, wasn't too keen on speaking. He was more interested in finishing off the plate of chickpeas and onions.