I once had the opportunity to travel in the general bogie of a Push-Pull train connecting the place I’m in (Gudupalli, Chittoor) to Bengaluru city. It was only 5.30 in the morning and there were more than 200 people in the compartment which had a seating capacity of just 54. I felt extremely bad at the sight of it and on learning that men and women travel for more than 6 hours every day, to and fro, and then work for 8 hours to earn a few hundred rupees.
I had a strong gut feeling that all these people were not happy with this hectic life and the long commute it comes with. To my shock, even the graduates were working as construction labourers.
In order to understand the reason why one would choose this tough life and what other options were available, I interacted with people at Gudupalli and got the following backstory of why this train has come into the picture.
Kuppam region in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh has always been one of the most drought-prone areas in the state. People here have never been completely dependent on farming for their livelihood and for a long time, they have been seasonally migrating to Bengaluru, which is the closest city, in search of employment opportunities of all sorts.
Because of a lack of a surface water source nearby, there’s been an extensive drawing of groundwater since decades which pushed the water table level down to an extent that there is no way to replenish it, making the agriculture much more dependent on rains. This leads to unemployment for more than 9 months in a year. Noticing this steady rise in unemployment, a new shuttle train between Bengaluru and Kuppam was introduced in the year 2008. This train stops at every major village making it easy for a lot of people from nearby villages to commute.
Ravi is a young graduate from a village and he leaves the house by 5.30 AM to come back only by 8.30 PM. He works as a delivery boy with an online food delivery app in Bengaluru. When I asked about this work he is doing and how he likes it, Ravi replies positively. “A couple of my brothers who are equally qualified had stayed back in the village for many years since there was no way they could go to Bengaluru every day and they couldn’t stay in the city because of its high cost of living. I’m happy to be able to help my family financially at this young age and feel blessed because I’m getting to go to a big city which gives me plenty of opportunities. I know that I don’t have to worry about bad days with no opportunities.“
When I had a similar conversation with Srinivasulu, he had a boy lying right next to him whom he was looking at with utmost love once every twenty seconds. He said, “What can we do! There’s no work here and our family can’t make ends meet if I won’t go. I leave by 7 AM and come back by 8 PM. Push-pull did make the timings a little easier for us. Earlier, I used to go by express train for which I had to start by 5.30 AM and would only return by 9.30 PM. I do construction work there. Fortunately, I get work every day and it pays 500 rupees for sure. On Sundays, I take a break since push-pull doesn’t run on Sundays.”
Srinivasulu continued, “I can’t say how I feel about it. On one hand, I’m happy that there’s enough work to earn money but on the other, there’s so much travel time that I’m not able to spend time with my family at all. I have two sons, one is 5 years old and the other 7. When I leave in the morning, they are not even awake and by the time I come back, they are fast asleep. Sometimes I don’t see any point of working this hard.”
Rathnamma is a middle-aged woman in the village. Two men from her house, her husband and her son work in Bengaluru. Here is what she had to say, “Because there’s no water for farming, my husband chose to work in the city. He’s a construction labourer there. My son works at a call center. He studied until 15th (graduation) and now gets around ten thousand rupees after working very hard for the whole month. He barely eats two meals a day. I’m worried about my son’s health and would want him to come back even if he stays idle but healthy. Although, his father is worried about the bad company he might indulge in, if he stays in the village.
Both my son and husband keep falling sick often because of all the travel and back-breaking work. If not for the loan we have taken to build the house under the government housing scheme, my husband could have stayed back and done any work he’d get in the village itself. We are waiting for the government to reimburse our money so that we can pay off the loan and get rid of the heavy debt. I would any day choose to farm and live in a small house over working in the city and paying interest on a home loan to build a bigger house. I wonder if all these worries are because of lack of rains and dried-up lakes.”
Neelamma works at Agastya International Foundation, where I was placed during the India Fellowship. Her husband, who is more than 60 years old, travels by the push-pull every day. “We feel it is of help, Supriya. My husband at least knows that he can reach the city safely to work and we can be assured that he will get back home and won’t have to stay there in the city spending nights on the sidewalks, waiting for the sun to rise and make to work on time. Simple things like being able to take his meals from home saves him a lot of money. Before this train, whenever my husband would go to Bengaluru, he’ll be gone for a few weeks. I know for a fact that he could then afford only one meal in two days. Now, my family is content and so am I.”
These and a couple of more interactions with the families helped me understand the different views people had about the shuttle train and how perceiving things in a positive view can change all our situations. I think this is what my mentors also talked about when I was initially struggling with establishing good relationship with some staff in the organisation. Looking at the bright side and appreciating the little things in everyday life definitely helps. Learning to accept things as they come is an art which helps in leading a peaceful life.
“Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.” – Cheryl Strayed
About The Author : Supriya Guddur is a 2018-19 cohort India Fellow working in Kuppam (Andhra Pradesh) with Agastya International Foundation. Her role is to support in the education program of the non-profit, designing suitable content and developing delivery mechanisms of the same. Supriya is an Engineer academically, who listened to her calling and took the plunge into the heartland of India through the fellowship journey.