Saturday 23 October 2010

Human traffic jam

What does it take to make a man uproot himself and his family taking nothing with him but three mouths to feed?
Leave everything he is sure about, to find a new life in another city in a different country? To have no destination or bed to head to, no job and nowhere to keep the three bags he carries. Abject and completely at the mercy of whatever governs our luck and fortune, birth and future in this tilted world.
What can it feel like to sit with your family on the platform of a station waiting to take a train to an unknown future? Your two children still young enough to have faith in your decisions who expect you to provide and to know all answers, a wife that married you for security and a future and is now penniless, helpless and blind to the perils to be faced in a foreign and hungry city?

Marooned there on a busy platform at Gorakhpur junction the last stop before Nepal in Uttar Padesh Northern India this family is a vulnerable pathetic sight I initially apply my values and see the pair as brave- I could never have done that with my kids but I realise he is not being bold he is desperate. The family are migrants from Nepal, they are landless there and so forever bound to landlords and poverty, a feudal system that paralyses their lives. Without work they would starve, so a ticket to Delhi and the possibility of both parents working on construction sites is the only hope.
They are not alone; the platform is crowded with similar groups all sat gazing into space as if focusing on a point they will never reach.

Dressed in white jackets and moving amongst them like angels are two beautiful Nepalese women who hand out leaflets and counsel them on what to expect and who to contact if they get into trouble. They work for SEVA the organisation I have come to visit.
SEVA works to prevent human trafficking and are at every land border, bus and train station in this region looking to counsel migrants and identify young girls who may be victims of human trafficking. Nepalese girls are often quite striking and there is a demand for them in the sperm pits that are the red light districts of SE Asia. Young girls are lured there, sometimes by false marriages to young men who turn up in remote villages offering love, trinkets and a future. They are then abandoned in a brothel, abused and never able to return home through fear, shame and ignorance.
Human trafficking is a multi million dollar Mafia run business that knows many ways to get flesh on the plate of sex hungry inadequate man. SEVA along with the police and border guards are stopping hundreds of girls being sentenced to a life of sex slavery and it is a privilege to be filming their work.
I am with them for two days visiting the Borders following them on to buses and trains and visiting schools and homes they run for the most disadvantaged children in this the poorest state in It is not just Nepalese girls who find themselves part of the flesh trade in far off cities - the wretched caste system means that landless and un educated lower caste women are vulnerable so Seva educates and negotiates land ownership for many Dalit women
The landscape is flat and green, very wet with crops of paddy fields and sugar cane. An occasional Teak plantation offers shade and monkeys thrive there eating scratching and shagging on the roadside like the rest of us really but without a house. We drive for hours but we never pass through wilderness people and shelters are always present, lives being lived out and shrines attended to.

Gorakhpur is simply the dirtiest smelliest most chaotic place I have ever visited I am sure that all who live there have never been anywhere else or they would not return. When I arrive it has been raining and the whole city is awash with an evil black sludge. Shit, piss, decaying matter mixed with oil and drain water topped with a liberal dusting of litter.
A Crapuccino.
Of course we have all seen a bit of urban filth before but not a whole town. It's as if Glastonbury has been held in a sewage farm on a city dump.
Add to this people and cars and motor rickshaws and cows and dogs and bicycles an cycle rickshaws and donkeys and me... tiptoeing through and between it all, the only man in town saying sorry or excuse me please.
The town appears to gave spread unchecked and unplanned there is no style or theme in the buildings it's as if it is a storage depot for condemned buildings. Brick, wood, thatch, mud and concrete cohabit shamelessly separated by roads and paths that act as arteries for anything that moves. It has an element of the Klondike to it without the fortune to be made
Hindi is the second language in Gurakhpur the first is the car horn -there seems to be a vocabulary and at any junctions the noise is deafening and no one knows who's hooting who. To use the car horn in the UK is a last resort and an invitation to confrontation here it is as much part of the car as the steering wheel. There are no road laws traffic moves like marbles on cobbles wherever there is a gap fill it. Consequently the city is gridlocked even on foot I was frequently stuck in the middle of the road unable to move in any direction, the fumes, stench and cacophony combined to evoke an altered state I'd regain consciousness up the road wondering how I got there
PJ is a driver with SEVA and he was a constant source of outrage and admiration to me. He seemed pathologically opposed to anything being in front of him and spent the entire time I was with him overtaking things and would accelerate into an junction speaking fluent car horn and swerving to miss children and other annoying obstacles. He relied on the world moving around him and drove as if playing a computer game and that no one mattered but him getting through the metal an flesh blockade in front of him. Outrageous liberties but no one cared or took offence back home he would be followed to his house and beaten. . He liked to sing and wonderfully his voice was always in the same key as his car horn. He never hit a single object in the entire 350 kms we travelled together but incredibly whenever we hit a rare open stretch of road he drove really slowly.

Images unlike smells and sounds linger: a dog ducking underneath a stationary cow rubbing ears against udders causing the cow to shudder. Warm cow breath on the back of my hand. A spiders web the size of a blanket shrouds bare power lines above me. Shocking spiders
A laundry wallah washing his load of other peoples clothes in a putrid pool of fetid black water,
Shit brown bubbles.
A cow gently gnawing a poster off a wall its domino teeth exposed, lips that kiss the brick. . A rat running down a curtain in the reception of my hotel as I come down for breakfast. Inexplicable movement in the cornflakes I am about to help myself to, I explore to reveal a burrowing bug.
A look of surprise in a cows eyes as I feed it the last of my ice cream reminiscent of mothers milk with a hint of pistachio it had never experienced ice before -it followed me back to my hotel and was outside next morning

I film a man asleep on the platform the station, foetal and vulnerable with his hands between his thighs. For the moment he has escaped his life on earth is free from his mortal struggle, what does he dream of?
I wonder for these people who have nothing here in the conscious realm do they have more to dream about than those who have everything?

Its not that I don't like Gorakhpur I love the outrageous and everything has as much worth and the same rights as anywhere else its just so poignant that it's the first stop for so many who are dreaming and hoping for new life. But it just can't be any better than where they have come from and can offer little hope of a brighter future. Hundreds of souls all trying to escape their fortune or being duped into a life of exploitation. Thrown together and gridlocked in a Human traffic jam.


Unknown said...

Phew..... You have taken me into a zone. I don't know who I am, where I am or why. Really evocative...... Michael

Anonymous said...

Thanks Tim, your writing has captured the essence of the disgust and delight of this what many people prefer not to look at. God bless you mate.x Gary

Anonymous said...

Thanks Tim, your writing has captured the essence of the disgust and delight of that part of the world. So many people choose to remain ignorant of these people and their plight. God bless you mate.x Gary