Posted by Miriam Koshy and COG, Goa
Parvez and group from Bhagalpur, Bihar first reached out to COG around mid May with a small video appeal, requesting us to share it on social media for it to reach both the Goa and Bihar governments. His appeal described how many of them had absolutely no money left, while the rest had just arrived a week before lockdown commenced and had not even had the chance to earn anything. Though we gave them rations and helped them register themselves for travel, yet their restlessness kept building as other states assigned Shramik trains for their stranded workers, but nothing seemed forthcoming from Bihar despite numerous calls to the MLA of their area.
When I shared their growing despair and frustration, my co-volunteers, Gurpreet, Farzana and Meenakshi came up with the plan to prepare biryani and kheer for Eid-ul-Fitr. The group was excited with the prospect of bringing this little happiness to them amidst all the gloom. None of us were prepared, however for what happened next.
The morning of Eid, I received a call from Parvez, saying they had decided as a group to head to the Bambolim Stadium after saying their namaaz, as they felt they had a better chance of getting a train if they were actually face-to-face with the Govt. functionaries at the stadium. Gurpreet hurriedly re-directed the feast to the stadium. Though they were happy to see familiar faces and were touched by the gesture, their smiles were restrained. Parvez’s father and another 20 of them had not managed to enter the stadium and had been waiting for hours. Outside the stadium were about 150 people. We quickly decided to supplement the food and managed to serve all 150 including Iqbal’s group .
The wait proved to be long and hard. With no news of trains and the air thick with uncertainty, tensions mounted. One of them, Mohd.Toufique turned his pain into a song. Around that time, the Goa Police had organised for some speakers and a mike and a talented constable would sing popular songs to keep the waiting shramiks from getting too frustrated … indeed a unique way to maintain law and order 😊 !
Toufique mustered the courage to ask if he could sing his song …and he couldn’t have chosen a better moment. Three busloads of shramiks had been taken to the station only to find the trains had been filled to capacity. Tired, hungry and disappointed, they had just been brought back to the stadium. Toufique cleared his throat nervously as he held the mike and looked around at all the people in the stadium seats. Then he began, and as he poured his heart out, his voice filled with pain, and yet gritty, the mood in the stadium visibly shifted. They clapped and hooted and cheered him on as he sang about how far home was, and how could they possibly reach home by foot when it was so far, of the restlessness and the strong desire to be home with family and loved ones.
Intrigued by the lyrics and his voice, I sat down to listen to his story. Recognising his talent early, his teachers would ask him to sing for school functions. Soon, he started writing his own songs and composed them using popular tunes. He went on to win several competitions and sing for functions at schools and village ceremonies, soon becoming the local voice .
After his performance, Parvez came to me and said , “You need to reach Toufique’s song to Nitish Kumar, if he knew what condition we were in, he would send us a train immediately… please put it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram” !
Toufique’s magic seemed to have worked…they were on their much awaited train five days later 😊.
Cover Image: Pinterest
Story images and videos : Author
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