Mohan Jha, a migrant labourer from Bihar, called his family excitedly to inform that he was finally boarding the train back home but was left numb with his five-year-old's question --"is it Diwali already?"
He did not have the heart to tell his son that they might not be able to celebrate the festival this year as he had no work.
Jha, who worked as a construction worker in Sohna near Gurgaon, has been out of work since the lockdown was announced to contain the spread of COVID-19. Struggling for nearly two months and managing to eat at community kitchens, he was finally able to board a train this week to Muzaffarpur in Bihar.
"I was trying to go back since two months. After a long wait my chance to board the train finally came. I called home in relief and my son asked if it is Diwali time already that I am coming back home. He had several questions about why is Diwali coming in summer this year. I felt heartbroken. I could not tell him that there may be no Diwali this year as there is no work," he said.
"I am sure he might be expecting that I will be getting gifts for him too but I will have to disappoint him for some time now," he added.
Refusing to be clicked, Jha said, "My misery cannot be captured by any camera. All the world has to offer us is sympathy and nothing more."
Bharat Babu, who worked at the same construction site, said, "For our children, we are only home when it is Diwali or Chath time. They are too young to understand why are we making this surprise visit back home or that there may be no going back. The virus will deprive us of many Diwalis it seems".
While the government has permitted construction activities, the labourers say its not the same work for them on the ground.
"The contractors say there is no raw material and government has also given extra time to finish construction so there is no hurry. If the contractors still keep us, they will have to pay our balance, so nobody wants to keep us for now," Babu said.
Sharing the same concerns, 42-year-old Manjhi Kumar said, "I have been in Gurgaon for seven years and I was planing to bring my family here this year. My son was very excited about studying in a city school but all of those plans will have to be put off now. Don't know if I myself will come back here or will look for work there only."
"I had saved some money but now all of it is being used as there is no new income. My wife who used to work as a domestic help is also out of work. How long will we survive on the limited savings," he added.
Over 40,000 migrants left for Bihar's Muzaffarpur, Barauni and Kishanganj on Thursday from different places in Haryana through Shramik Special Trains.
According to the Haryana Chief Minister's Office, so far over 2.38 lakh migrants have been sent home from the state.
The country has been under a lockdown since March 25 to contain the spread of virus and the lockdown has now been extended till May 31.
Throwing economic activities out of gear, the lockdown rendered many homeless and out of money, 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.
"I had registered as soon as the trains were announced and I managed to get my chance after struggling for weeks. I had no other option than to wait," Manjhi Kumar said.
For in-depth, objective and more importantly balanced journalism, Click here to subscribe to Outlook Magazine