Migrants Around Us
In the midst of all the talk about the migrants in Mumbai and whether they are a burden or an asset to the city, I came to visit my mother in Kolkata. She lives in the Ballygunj area, once (probably still), an extremely elitist old money colony of the Bengali elite. After uninterrupted Left Front rule in the state since 1977 which effectively cut down industrialization and jobs for the educated Bhadrolok class, most of the young people left the city and today a large part of old South Kolkata is decaying buildings and elderly residents. The ambiance is unmistakably old world Bengali. So it was with some level of curiosity that my mother announced that a couple of girls who spoke Hindi had come to live as paying guests in the neighboring house.
In a culture, where people are classified as Bangali(Bengali) or O Bangali( non Bengali) with no grey shades in between, the arrival of the girls who would chatter away in Hinglish is currently still an amusing phenomena as they bring in life into an otherwise deadened community. But some disquiet is clearly there. What happens next? Some more girls coming in paying guests? Boy friends? Parties and Loud music? No one quite knows and every one is keeping their fingers crossed.
The only non Bengalis people in the area are aware of are Marwari builders trying to buy up their mansions and whose ostentatious life styles are looked upon with contempt and at the other end, the Bihari rickshaw pullers and laborers – generally looked upon in Kolkata with pity rather than anger. And yet can some Marwari families and Bihari laborers who have been in the city for generations and who speak the language and idiom with a rare fluency that will always elude the probasi(non resident Bengali) be called sons of the soil ? That question has never been attempted.
The situation in Delhi is far more interesting. The original people of Delhi – the folks who lived in Shahajanabad – Ballimaran, Chandni Chowk are today miniscule. The whole of that is captured within one parliamentary constituency out of Delhi’s seven. The others who are authentically sons of the soil are the outlying villages – Narela, Najafgarh, Badli, Samaipur and many, many others. These are and always have been villages and very rural except that the city has grown all around them and suddenly they find themselves befuddled.
The bulk of the people who live in Delhi today are migrants and a big portion are people displaced by the partition and who have come in from what is now Pakistan, gone into business, made money and bought property which they let out often by putting out classifieds in the daily newspapers. A typical transaction where the lesser is a migrant, the prospective tenant is also a migrant will reveal a lot. After scanning through the classifieds and short listing a few houses, a phone call is made to the landlord in the phone number listed in the advertisement and a time to get together is fixed.
Once the parties have got together and the opening pleasantries exchanged, the land lord asks the key question – what is you shubh naam? - Your good name please? A hush accompanies the question for in that question lie a hundred answers. If I am typical (I am not but that is a different matter…)my name will reveal to a waiting audience, not just that but my caste, my language, my religion, my dietary habits and possibly even my political ideology. It might even provide significant clues as to my occupation, my income and my life style. All this is largely based on stereotypes but when a dialogue is happening between strangers, pictures and images loom pretty large. The interesting thing about these interviews is that although a large portion of the land owners are North Indians and a big majority landed as displaced people needing housing in the post partition era, North Indians are at the bottom of the ladder when it comes to picking tenants.
Echoing Delhi’ Lieutenant Governor’s remarks most land lords believe that among migrants into the city , the South Indians are the favored lot as most believe that they are reliable law abiding, not aggressive and in general law abiding. Most advertisements are too discreet to say this upfront but some actually do so. The classification typically allows only North and South, so when I say I am from Bengal, there is momentary confusion but thus far I have passed the test. However I don’t know how Muslims with a name like Abdul Aziz would fare or a Christians with a name with Anthony Gonsalves would fare.
Eventually possibly xenophobia is ingrained in our genetic make up; but what we do differently in different places is respond more or less humanely recognizing that trade, travel and eventual migration is just as much part of the human genetic make up. Indians, who constitute one of the world’s largest Diaspora and have received varying levels of welcome at different places and even different times, should have assimilated lessons connected to migration and even reverse migration long ago. But we haven’t done that.
The Shiv Sena may say that Biharis are an unwanted lot every where and like Tejinder Khanna’s statement that maybe a politically incorrect truth. But perhaps it will take a man of Abdul Kalaam’s vision to make Bihar a more attractive place to live and work, so that a day may come when people or at least a section of them actually revert back to their place of origin. Isn’t that beginning to happen a bit – as India changes, many NRIs who went out in search of lucrative pastures outside, are now finding the grass increasingly greener this side of the fence ? Migration is a complex phenomenon- it will take a lot more than raving and ranting to make a rational sense out of it and draw up humane policies that will make it less necessary for people to migrate out into unwelcoming shores.
Tags: Kolkata , Bengali , Left Front , 1977 , Loud Music , Marwari
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