Heart-rending exodus story #?: An Adivasi couple and their empty pram

A couple who used to work in a brick kiln are trudging along the highway in Madhya Pradesh. They have lost their six-month-old son during the journey but they believe home, hundreds of kilometres away, is in sight

Nanhe Ju and Saroj Bai are among the crores of victims of the hastily conceived and shoddily implemented national lockdown, supposedly aimed at stopping the deadly coronavirus dead in its tracks. Whether putting the nation under lock and key for 50 days has halted the contagion’s onward march is anybody’s guess but what is certain is that it has spelt ruin for the innumerable impoverished workers who had moved hundreds, even thousands, of kilometres away from their homes and hearths to earn a living. 

Be that as it may, the Adivasi couple was working at a brick kiln in Kalaria village on the road leading from Indore to Dhar in Madhya Pradesh. The couple had a six-month-old son.

With the brick kiln shut, savings exhausted and no help in sight, they decided to walk back to their village Ghata in Gwalior district, about 560 km away. Aware that the Agra-Mumbai National Highway would take them to their destination, they began the trek. The two carried their meagre belongings on their heads, placed their child in a pram, which Nanhe pulled along, with Saroj bringing up the rear. 

On 7 May (Thursday) evening the child developed a high fever. With big padlocks hanging on the clinics in the towns they passed through, the distraught couple did not know what to do. Ultimately, they managed to buy a bottle of Crocin syrup and feed a few spoonfuls to the child. At around 4 in the morning, the little one stopped breathing. The desperate couple knocked on the door of a hutment for help. An old lady emerged, who examined the child briefly and confirmed that the child had died.

Nanhe Ju, Saroj Bai and the empty pram

Shubham – for that was the name of the little one – was given a burial and the couple marched ahead, pulling the pram along. Later the day, on the highway, a woman travelling in a Scorpio (an SUV) on the highway stopped on seeing them and offered the hungry, exhausted and distressed couple something to eat and a bottle of water. She wondered why they were pulling the empty pram along. “Shubham’s body is not with us. But he is sleeping in the pram. And he will help us reach our village,” replied Saroj. The woman was puzzled. Had she lost their mind? Did she know what she was saying? How can a dead person be asleep? 

Wasn’t it Chacha Ghalib who said, “Dard ka had se guzarna hai dawa ho jaana”? (Pain ceases to be when it crosses all limits)

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