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First flight, brush with fame, generous boss: How 10 migrants came home

Patna: Air passengers arriving from Delhi leave the the Jai Prakash Narayan International Airport, during ongoing COVID-19 lockdown, in Patna, Thursday. (PTI)Premium
Patna: Air passengers arriving from Delhi leave the the Jai Prakash Narayan International Airport, during ongoing COVID-19 lockdown, in Patna, Thursday. (PTI)

  • A Delhi farmer spent 68,000 to buy flight tickets for 10 labourers working in his farm
  • None of the poor migrants had ever boarded a flight before and when they landed at Patna airport, media persons were waiting for them

Unlike other migrants, a group of 10 labourers in Delhi were lucky enough to have reached home without walking for hundreds of kms during lockdown. Their generous boss, a mushroom farmer in Delhi's Tigipur village, bought flight tickets worth 68,000 for all his workers who toiled for him for the last 20 years. He even gave each one of the workers 3,000 in cash so that they don’t face any problems reaching their home in Bihar's Samistipur from the Patna airport.

"I could not have taken a risk by allowing my workers to walk thousands of miles as it would have put their lives in danger because we are getting to know these days that migrants meet road accidents while going home," the farmer Pappan Singh said.

For the workers, they had never dreamed they would get on a plane. Naveen Ram, one of the 10 workers said people at the Delhi airport were staring at them when they entered carrying jute bags and wearing slippers. "We were not well-dressed like others. We didn't know what we should do next after entering the airport because it was our first experience of travelling in a plane. We took the help of an airline official," the 27-year-old said.

Getting through airport formalities was intimidating but they had help from an official who guided them till the plane. Excited, nervous and a little panicky as they settled in their seats, many closed their eyes as the plane taxied and then tilted sharply at take-off, Naveen said.

Some of them put their heads down on the table in front as the plane steadied in the skies, not daring to look out of the window even when the flight landed, he said.

But that was not the end of the thrilling ride for the group, catapulted to national news at a time when migrant stories are made of arduous journeys battling hunger and heat on foot, cycle, bus or train.

Several mediapersons were waiting to interview them when they landed at Patna after the 6 am flight from Delhi, said Naveen’s fellow traveller and co-worker Jitender Ram. "We never expected to get so much attention. Yesterday, my friend phoned me, saying he was watching me on a news channel. We will always remember such a wonderful experience," Jitender said.

Asked whether he will come back to Delhi after the lockdown is over, Naveen said, "Definitely, we will come back to Delhi when our 'malik' calls us."

"How can we leave our employer who has cared for us so much? We will be returning by the end of August. We have promised him," added Lakhindra Ram as his co-travellers nodded vigorously in agreement.

Full of praise for their employer, who saw them off in Delhi saying that he looked forward to their return, the group left for Samastipur district from Patna airport in a vehicle arranged by their employer.

Pappan Singh, who has helped rewrite the migrant narrative of tragedy and helplessness, said he called his workers every step of the way, from after they entered Delhi airport to when they stepped into the plane -- asking if all was okay, if they had taken their boarding passes, checked in their bags and safely made their way to the gate.

"I wanted everyone to give them respect the way I do. I was very concerned as my workers were not well-dressed like other passengers. Some of them were wearing slippers and carrying jute bags.

"I am happy that they have finally reached their home state," Pappan told PTI.

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