2020 lockdown: Book documents how 7 migrants pedalled home

·3-min read

New Delhi, May 27 (PTI) Filmmaker Vinod Kapri has come out with a book that documents a seven-day arduous journey undertaken by seven migrant workers on their bicycles from Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh, battling hunger and exhaustion to reach their homes in Bihar during the 2020 lockdown.

'1232 km: The Long Journey Home' is about this trip by Ritesh Kumar Pandit, Ashish Kumar, Ram Babu Pandit, Sonu, Krishna, Sandeep Kumar and Mukesh to Saharsa in Bihar that spanned 1,232 km. A documentary based on this journey, directed by Kapri, has just been released on Disney+ Hotstar.

'When I set out on this journey, I had a deep curiosity about what makes the migrant labourers bicycle 1,232 km without food or any help in such extreme circumstances. I wanted to know who these people are. I wanted to see them up close,' Kapri says about his book, published by HarperCollins India.

'This is not only a journey about courage, willpower or grit. It is about good and bad people in our society. The migrants I filmed were getting unexpected help from strangers, while the authorities, who one would expect cooperation from, were harassing them,' he says.

Kapri, who has won a National Award for his film 'Can't Take This Shit Anymore' (2014), says as a filmmaker, he saw the migrant exodus right from day one through the perspective of a documentary.

'I initially had no plans of writing a book, though I did feel that the camera couldn't catch many aspects of the journey (partly because I had set strict rules for shooting that gave the seven men their privacy and the right to speak to the camera at a time of their choosing and only if they wished to),' he says.

He had used his phone to jot down his thoughts, observations and notes of what the men had shared at other times. 'I felt this aspect, not caught on camera, should be documented too.' He thus decided to write about this 'memorable and unbelievable journey'.

'They had cycled, walked, and occasionally been given a lift by a kind truck driver. They had covered 1,232 kilometres in unimaginable conditions - braving police lathis, starvation and heat - wavering between fear and hope,' Kapri says.

According to Ridhima Kumar, commissioning editor at HarperCollins India, 'The painful images of labourers (often with children) walking or cycling home at the peak of summer will long remain implanted in my memory. Here's an incisive reportage of the seven of them, angry and frustrated yet full of hopes and dreams, on their way home - 1,232 kilometres away.' Kapri says the exodus was covered on TV and by the newspapers.

'But it's very hard to understand just how hard these journeys were. They were difficult, life-threatening and almost impossible - as much for these seven men, as for those millions who undertook them.' But, why only these seven labourers? '... All I can say is these seven labourers represent the desperate millions you saw during the lockdown on your television screens, crying, hassled and dejected,' he says.

Kapri shot the journey of these seven men from his car.

'To tell you the truth, many times I wondered if I was trying to turn their tragedy into an opportunity. Then I realised if the toughest journey of their lives was not documented, how would the country and the world find out about their struggle, their pain and the threats they faced?' PTI ZMN RDS RDS

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