It is Tiwari’s Tamil that gets us talking. “Do you like dogs?” he asks — as I scratch the ears of the handsome Doberman pup beside him — and then proceeds to tell me of his companion, whose job it is to guard the house, along with him. His command of the language is excellent, and it’s only his mild accent that makes me ask where he’s from. “Buxar,” he says once, twice, and when I still don’t get it, spells it out for me. ‘B-u-x-a-r. It’s a town in Bihar.”
Forty-year-old Tiwari has, indeed, come a long way from his hometown in east India, to Adambakkam, in Chennai. “If you walk for half an hour from my house, you’ll see the Ganga. On one side, there’s Bihar; on another, there is Uttar Pradesh.” Buxar, he says, is a big place; it has hospitals and schools and colleges, but many people still depend on the land for their livelihood. Tiwari, too, was a farmer. But four years ago, he got into the Sanghamitra Express and two days later, reached Chennai.
“Many people from Bihar leave in search of employment. A lot of people go to Delhi,” he says. Tiwari, however, chose Chennai, as he was told there were jobs here, jobs that paid more than the ones in his town did, and that he would, definitely, get a better deal than farming. “I’m able to send home nearly Rs. 5000 a month. In Buxar, I can earn only Rs. 4000 if I took up a job!” And so, leaving behind his wife and three children, Tiwari rented a house in Velachery (which he shares with three more men) and began working as a security guard.
Tiwari cooks his own meals — usually rice or chapathis — and is quite happy living in this city. But he looks forward to going home, for a visit, at least once in six to eight months. He plans to go for Diwali and hopes to stay there for a month. Tiwari’s daughters study in a government high school. They travel three to four kms each way to school. The son, who’s younger, is in Class 8, in a private school. “They all want to study,” he says of his children.
In Buxar, Tiwari’s brother now cultivates their land. “We have five acres of land. Around this time, rice is grown; in December, it will be reaped, and wheat and lentils will be cultivated.” But from April to June, “Bhoomi gaaliya irrukum. Soodu, soodu kathu.” (The land will lie fallow, because the wind will be very hot). After the monsoon, however, the weather improves, and in winter, it actually becomes very cold. “We wear a sweater, jacket and muffler to go out; we also drink a lot of tea to stay warm.””
Tiwari points out that farmland that is well-irrigated and fertile can be leased for a lot of money. “You can even get Rs. 70,000 a year for it!” But his land does not command that sort of a premium, which is why it is farmed by the family. The produce is then given to the broker, who gets a commission on every quintal that he buys and sells.
Like everybody else in Buxar, Tiwari speaks Bhojpuri, which he says is “konjam different” from Hindi. It’s probably quite different from Tamil, but it hasn’t stopped him from learning the language, and making a living, in a city that is nearly 2,000 km away from home.
(A weekly column on men and women who make Chennai what it is)