A Migrant's Road How ravi kishan, a nepali by birth, seeks to make his dreams come true in vembar, 38 years after leaving home

Fifty-three-year-old Ravi Kishan is a real man of stature. Having made himself a promise at the age of 15, to make a life for himself, he set out from his Western Nepal home in 1978. Years later, from 1993, he found himself in Vembar, a remote and desolate fishing village in Tamil Nadu, still in search of that increasingly elusive dream.

The Bay of Bengal stands witness to his struggle, as the erstwhile glimmer in his eyes have been replaced by a rather melancholy and grim face. He soldiers on to the future. As we sat down for a chat, his preoccupied demeanour was tough to ignore.

Kishan, recounting his journey, said: ''I was 15 when I left my home in Western Nepal. I ran away from my parents and home, to try my luck making a living in India. I was in Haridwar in 1978, where I worked as a labourer for six years. I also tried my hand in Bangalore between 1983-87 and Chennai between 1988-92, before one of my friends suggested Vembar, as an alternative to the big city. I’ve been here since 1993.''
To make ends meet, he has a laborious day. He explains: "I have been working double shifts in this area from the time I have been here. My wife and daughters know me to be the rag doll of the village, called ‘Nepali’, and forced to do work for the sake of my stomach. My day begins at 5 am, when I take rounds of the village, after which I head to the fish processing factory at 6, which is my day-time job. In the night, I have to engage in the charcoal manufacture, as all the wood and sawdust from the day needs to be treated."

The villagers know I look different, and all the Tamil I speak or generosity I show cannot make up for it. They more or less take me to be a caretaker, and I still take rounds, in order to maintain the situations that arise.

His home, made by one of the older residents of Vembar, is rented. It just about makes do for his 46-year-old wife and two daughters, aged 15 and 12. "I don’t like the fact that they are more ready to converse in Tamil than Nepali. They have adapted so well to everything, all for my indecision.It makes me question my attempts of trying to leave." he said.
As he remembers home, he says: "I miss my family terribly, and I haven’t met my 2 older brothers for 14 years. I still feel empty at the thought of it, as I missed my father’s funeral over 30 years ago. Also, having not known for so long what has become of my son from my first marriage, it is rather helpless for me being here."

Dreams run eternal, as shows Ravi Kishan to the world. The hardened exterior has room for the burden, while the raw interior, a beacon of hope. 

Story and images by Arnav Bhattacharya

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