“Gaadi Kab chalegi saab,” asked Jeev Gupta, a migrant labourer from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh.
A bit of hope in his voice disappeared when told that public transport was unlikely to start before Friday morning. Caught unawares by the strike, they found themselves stranded at South railway station on Thursday, the second day of the nation-wide shutdown called by trade unions, on their return from home.
Welders at a construction site at Perumbavur, Jeev and his three friends were left with no option but to stay back in the railway station till Friday. “Unlike native passengers, we cannot hope to hitch a ride either,” said Rajan Nisar, an opinion borne out of the local people’s hostility towards migrant labourers.
Shyamanand Misra, another migrant labourer, wondered aloud about the futility of a strike that put common people like him to hardship.
Outbound passengers also had equally tough time reaching railway stations. Maxy had to hitchhike his way from Fort Kochi to catch the train to reach his workplace in Kollam. Mahesh, a resident of Payyanur who had come to visit his friend in the city, had to walk all the way from Pettah to south station in searing heat to get on a train back home. “This is easily my worst trip ever,” he said wiping away his sweat.
The story was not much different for air passengers who arrived at the Cochin International Airport at Nedumbassery. For them the luxury ended at the touchdown. With pre-paid taxis staying off the road, they had to fall back on two police vans deployed by the Nedumbassery police to reach Aluva or Angamaly railway stations.
“We would have been left stranded if not for the arrangement by the police. Now I could at least reach Ernakulam from Aluva by train from where I hope to find someway to get to Fort Kochi,” Pratap Bhosle, who arrived here from Mumbai on a Jet Airways flight.
D. Paul, an executive with a private company, had to spend a couple of hours at the airport before finding the police arrangement. “Police should be appreciated for the service,” he said.
The police operated 20-odd services timed in tune with the domestic flight schedule, transporting more than 500 passengers to either Aluva or Angamaly railway stations during the two days of strike.
Many pre-paid taxi operators who stayed away from airport duty in the name of strike operated parallel services outside, fleecing the hapless passengers and tourists. Some of them were charging as much as Rs. 6,000 for a trip to Munnar, which was double the usual fare, the police said.