'A rickshaw puller can work anywhere, but we chose to do it in a big city so that our kids get to study there. It is a very sought after thing there if your kids study in bade sheher ka school'
Fear of starvation amid the coronavirus-forced lockdown ended Shyam Babu's dream of "big-city school" for his child as the family packed their bags to return to their remote Chewara village in Bihar.
For the last two months, he has been struggling to make ends meet.
As Babu reminisces about the last eight years, since he moved to Gurgaon in search of work, and ultimately got his son admitted to a school here, his 8-year-old son Neeraj is reluctant to leave and pleads his father that he will stay back and go to school when it reopens.
He fears that there may not be any coming back to Gurgaon and he will have to study in a village school from now.
"I have been in Gurgaon for eight years now. I have worked as a labourer at different construction sites. I always wanted my son to study in a big-city school since those in villages are not that good.
"Neeraj got admission in a government school here. His fees and meals were taken care of and we were happy that he will get a good education and will not have to work as a labourer when he grows up," Shyam Babu said.
With no work and wages pending, Babu's family had to vacate their rented room and were waiting for a chance to catch a train back home.
"Neeraj wanted to stay back so that he can resume school when it reopens. But how can we leave him here alone?" he said.
Unhappy about visiting his village suddenly with all their belongings, Neeraj said, "I like the school here. I wish I am able to come back and the situation turns normal soon. If they will let my father build houses, I will get to come here too."
Tirath Kumar, a rickshaw puller, says that in his village in Bihar's Sheikhpura district big-city school is a sought after thing.
"A rickshaw puller can work anywhere, but we chose to do it in a big city so that our kids get to study there. It is a very sought after thing there if your kids study in 'bade sheher ka school'. We have the same government schools there also but teaching is good in city schools.
"I like it when my daughter talks in English fluently. She is smarter in maths too than her village friends," Kumar said.
He was determined to return to Gurgaon after a few months.
"I will come back and see if we can again move here and will be able to survive. If yes, I will get my family here. Else my daughter will have to study in a village school only. Her education here is not expensive to manage as the anganwadi centres help too, but what will we eat, where will we stay?" he posed.
Both Tirath Kumar and Shyam Babu's families left for their village on Shramik special train earlier this week, among hundreds of migrants labourers who were victims of reverse migration after being out of work due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
Diwan Raj, who worked with a catering firm in Gurgaon, said, "My son's school here is very good. They also sent sanitiser and masks for the whole family and the teacher explained to us on phone about the virus and precautions everyone needs to take. You don't get all this in village schools. Children then struggle when they grow up."
"I wish I could do something to keep things as they were. I also waited for two months hoping that situation will turn normal but we have exhausted our savings too now. Though the lockdown has been eased to some extent still there is no work, so we will now have to go back. There is no other option. We can live anywhere, we don't mind but my son's education will not be the same, I am more worried about this," he added.
According to the Haryana chief minister's Office, so far over 2.60 lakh migrants have been sent home from the state.
The country has been under lockdown since March 25 to contain the spread of the virus.
The curbs have now been extended till May 31.
It has thrown economic activities out of gear, rendered many homeless and penniless, beginning an exodus of migrants to their home states.
While trains and buses are being arranged for them, lakhs of them continue to wait for their chance as they struggle to make ends meet.