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NO TICKET, WILL TRAVEL by Subuhi Jiwani

The life of an Indian migrant labourer is a life filled with incessant struggles of survival for livelihood. Regularly having to stand for hours at an end on the streets under the daunting killing sun waiting to be hired for work, keeping a hawk eye in trying to catch the eyes of landowners and contractors who come zipping by in their vehicles to hire; these are regular experiences for them. 

They are desperate for work. Most of the times, they have no money on them. Many a time they thus travel ticketless on the trains, trying to escape the watchful eyes of the ticket collector. But travel they must because it is a story of survival. Always wondering if today will be their lucky day….What if they may be overlooked for being too young or old or not strong enough for the strenuous work?                                                                                                                                                                          

These are the questions that run in the minds of the migrant workers and farmers on the look-out for work in ‘No Ticket, Will Travel’ by Subuhi Jiwani (Karadi Tales). Tamil and Telegu daily wage earners from Kaloor, Katpadi, Kadiri areas in Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh struggle to survive in an uncertain harsh world.    

No Ticket, Will Travel by Subuhi Jiwani is a book of stories of six Indian migrant labourers and the hardships they face daily to earn a living for themselves and their families. This book is relevant today due to the problems faced by the mass exodus of migrant workers from the cities during the pandemic

In Chandra’s story we read about hope, love and longing. One early morning seventeen- year-old Chandra waits anxiously to get a job as a labourer. He stands hungry as a wolf amongst countless nameless others like him. Eager to be hired by contractors who come zipping by in their cars, bikes and tempos. He hears about ticketless train travels from another youngster like him. Desperate for work, having to save every penny for home, many a time one has to forgo buying a ticket. But one must avoid being caught and fined by a ticket checker. Desperate measures indeed. Chandra nervously thinks what would he do if he was in this predicament. How would he buy earrings for Priya his classmate who he is in love with? Though unhappy to be passed on for not being strong enough for a job, Chandra does not stop dreaming of better days.                                        

Stories of separation and reunions. For any child having to live separately from their parents for months at an end is no easy child’s play. Most happy they are when they can be together. Aruna, a young girl studies and lives in the village with her grandmother. Away from her parents who work as construction labourers in Kochi. Thrilled she is when she gets to travel with her aunt and uncle to the city during vacations. Aruna wears her first pair of fancy pink and white slippers. But a long arduous journey on crowded buses and travelling ticketless awaits them. Upset to lose her slipper in the mad rush her joy of finally meeting her Amma, with the promise of a new pair she looks forward to travel with her parents for their next job as labourers. 

Food sustains us all. For Balu hunger pangs are the worst after a long tiresome day. Due to lack of work, Balu a daily wage earner, has had to sleep hungry. This is unbearable. If lucky to get work he makes tar roads under the scorching sun on the outskirts of the city. Balu loves reading poetry. He used to study B.A. in Tamil Literature but due to lack of funds, he had to leave it halfway. He loves to recite the poems of Sri Sri Rao, a modern poet of the masses. It is these poems that keep him going through the hard and strenuous days. 

In Sadia we get to read the story of a young mother nurturing her love for a hobby. Despite a tough life as a construction labourer she keeps alive her passion for needle work. A hobby does not see class, rich, poor, young or old. Anyone can have a past time to liven up life. Sadia works tirelessly during the day doing the heavy lifting as a labourer. Going back home, completing the home chores she looks forward to her ‘Me’ time at night. Lost in her love for embroidery, she stitches blankets from colourful rags of cloth. She also makes dolls made from tennis balls, beads and bindis to sell thereby making some extra money for her family.   

Why only children….this thought -provoking sensitive book is meaningful to even adults. Recently while reviewing ‘No Ticket, Will Travel’ I was disturbed by the continued loud jarring sound of the road diggers at work down below. I noticed many labourers hard at work, men and women sweating profusely under the hot sun. Their young children were playing close by with a small babe in arms. Talk about the perils at work! That moment was a crucial for me where I felt a murmur within me. A realization! It made me more empathetic to the tough ordeals the daily workers have to face.

This book throws light to the grim stark reality of the countless Indian migrant labourers. With uncertainty writ on their faces, mounting debts and lack of jobs at home force them to travel inter-state and out of state to earn a living. It is a lonely struggle. 

The takeaways are high for school libraries, book clubs and reading circles. A glossary of words used and information about places is mentioned behind. This is not just a book that creates awareness of Indian migrant workers, but also one that will strike a chord in the reader’s heart to create change for those engaged in manual labour anywhere!

Title: No Ticket, Will Travel

Author: Subuhi Jiwani

Cover Design: Tanvi Parulkar

Publishers: Karadi Tales MinMini Reads with PARI, 2020

Price: 200/- 

Genre: Fiction with real life events 

Age: 12 +

Poyani Mehta

Poyani Mehta is a former School Librarian, the co-host of Stories Between the Lines-A Podcast, a freelance storyteller, performs in theatre for children for the Secret Passages Storytelling Circle. She is a team member of the PeekABook Children Literary Festival. She is a bibliophile, rescues injured birds and enjoys spending quality time with her young daughter and Shanti, her indie pariah dog who lives across the street.

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