Name: Mohammad Arbaaz Khan
Hometown: Bhitiarwa, Bihar.
Occupation: Electrician & Tailor
Returned From: Aurangabad
Mohammad Arbaaz Khan, at the age of twenty, set-out for a potential job opportunity in Aurangabad. He had studied till grade 10. To provide for a family of six; Arbaaz learned the skills required to be an electrician, and with it, he was being able to stitch bags. Without any warning, the lockdown was announced forcing Arbaaz and his colleagues stranded for a month and a half. While essential products were not the first concern, the distress and guilt about the inconvenience caused to his family due to the pandemic lead him to begin his journey back home.
Interviewer: How was your journey back home? Were you able to interact with others in similar situation?
Mohammad Arbaaz Khan: I wasn’t scared of the disease. It isn’t just for us; anyone can get it. Death is inevitable. For a month and a half, I wasn’t paid. None of us were. Also, our employer refused to organize a truck back home for the fifteen of us. On the day of the Covid-19 test, we encountered three others wanting to go back home to Bhitiarwa, Bihar. At six in the evening, we began our journey. We hitched a ride for 100 k.m. for Rs. 4,000. We covered 100 to 150 k.m. that day with minimal rest. Upon crossing the Madhya Pradesh border from Bhusawal, we were able to lease a truck close to Gorakhpur. Few kilometres of walking and we were able to hitch another ride. By train – the total distance is 1,600 k.m. However, I did not calculate the distance on our route.
On the way, we managed to get water, biscuits and other such items to keep us going. Our initial plan was to purchase a bicycle since there was no definite date. Majority suggested we walk and try to hitch a ride whenever possible. I would’ve continued living there in isolation. However, I am my family’s primary source of income. I was able to earn Rs. 10,000 in month working eight hours a day with expenses of Rs. 3,000 a month. The accommodation and other facilities were provided by our employer allowing me to spend Rs. 3,000 on food, and send back remainder of my income. The home expenditure wouldn’t go above Rs. 6,000 in a month.
Our option to quarantine at home was not permitted, thus, we spent fourteen days at the quarantine centre in a nearby school. At entering, we were provided with clothes, soap, oil, and strict guidelines to maintain a minimum of 1m distance. The food wasn’t bad either. Twice a day we were given rice, some vegetables and lentils, and rolled flat rice for breakfast. Fourteen days later, we arranged transportation back home. Through the journey, I had communicated with my parents through a small phone I had to purchase after losing my smartphone. I was concerned about my father’s health. There was a sense of relief once I entered the house.
Interviewer: How has the virus affected your lifestyle? What was your initial reaction?
Mohammad Arbaaz Khan: I wasn’t aware of the virus before people in the neighbourhood were infected. I had heard rumours about the virus through my phone, nothing conclusive at the time. From time to time, I use my phone to source information from YouTube videos. I also watch ‘Aaj-Tak’ and use Facebook for entertainment purposes. I do nothing wrong with my phone. Now I know, the symptoms include coughing, fever, and headache. A person with following symptoms has the Corona Virus and might die in 8 – 10 days. You can’t do much if you’re infected with the disease. Maintain distance, and follow other guidelines provided by the authorities.
In the village I resided in, Chauka-Chowki, the panchayat considered us a part of their community. Due to the increase in cases the locals began revolting our entrance to the village to protect themselves. I knew there was no escape from the virus, being with family would make the process easier.
As the eldest son of the family, I had a responsibility to financially support my family. I left Bhitiarwa two or three years ago. I learned skills of an electrician in the village and stitching during my first time outside the village. I have a sister who is 18, two brothers who are 7 and 8, studying in grade 6th and 7th – respectively. Before my arrival, my father went through a medical procedure constraining him to the bed. Other than our house, we do not own any assets. As I mentioned, being stranded in Maharashtra was worse for my family than me. I was forced to borrow money from my uncle for my father’s medical procedure. He’s a teacher who occasionally lends money to others in the village, he is also a grand-father figure in my life. I borrowed Rs. 8,000 with 5% interest, to be paid when possible.
Interviewer: Has your lifestyle altered since you have been back?
Mohammad Arbaaz khan: Since I’ve been back – I have spent majority of time at home. Although not possible, I had plans to continue with my education. I’d have hobbies, but I am the oldest son in the family. There is no time to satisfy my hobbies or wishes. There are a few opportunities for an electrician but none for the stitching bags. I was told to resume work once the lockdown would ease, yet I am continuing earning Rs. 150 to Rs. 250 here and there. Now that I know that government allows for loans without interest, I might consider opening an electric shop. I cannot go too far again. If required, I’d consider Hyderabad or Delhi for employment. It is 12hours away as opposed to Maharashtra being 36hours away.