As Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Bihar counterpart Nitish Kumar bond over their common political interests, countless Biharis stream into Delhi for education and jobs, creating a link between two distinct and distant states. Biharis are a strong electoral constituency. Together with migrants from eastern Uttar Pradesh, they are known as Poorvanchalis, making up 35% of Delhi’s 13 million voters. The Bihari identity in Delhi has many stereotypes: the khaini-chewing construction worker, the ‘un-cool’ but studious DU student, and the aspiring civil servant of Mukherji Nagar.
Then there is the quintessential autowallah. You speak to any auto-rickshaw driver in Delhi, and you’re likely to be speaking to a Bihari. As it is, that incorrigible slant in the otherwise Khadi boli is unmissable. During my commuting in Delhi, I have been fascinated to see just how many of them are from a single place—Motihari in north Bihar. Next time you travel, just strike up a conversation!
It’s enriching to let people tell their stories. Poor Kalimullah left Motihari’s Mankarwa village and became an auto driver in Delhi two decades ago. His four uncles came here 10 years before him to take up the same job. When I met him for a second time, he took me to Minto Road, Ananad Vihar, Pandav Nagar and New Delhi railway station to let me meet hundreds of his Motihari colleagues. Unemployed Chandramohan Prasad Yadav of Motihari’s Rajapur left home with friends and landed in Delhi 20 years ago. His uncle Deolal Yadav was already here. His three brothers—Lakhinder, Surinder and Gubri—also became auto-drivers in Delhi.
When I lived in east Delhi, I met hundreds of men from villages in Motihari’s Sugauli who drove auto-rickshaws in Delhi and lived in Trilokpuri. Rajiv Kumar Jha of Motihari’s Kotwa reached Delhi in 2000, started as a driver, but soon owned 20 vehicles and hired 40 drivers. In three years, he managed to get a new house constructed back home. His father and uncle also worked with him. Rajeev bought a house here and sent his kids to an English-medium school. “Maybe, this is the last generation of drivers in our family. We can now switch to “more honourable” jobs,” he told me during a ride from KG Marg to Mayur Vihar.
So how did it all start? Ranglal Rai who came to Delhi from Motihari’s Pipra in 1973 said the first lot came in the early 1950s. A large number of men from areas around Motihari such as Basantpur, Bagahi, Medhiharwa, Chakiya, Dhaka and Kesariya became auto drivers in Delhi. While Vidyananda (Kotwa), Lallan (Kesariya), Raju Pandit (Kotwa) and Alim (Pahadpur) struggled in Delhi, Rakesh Pandey (Belwa) is proud that he married off his sister without any outside help.
Most of these conversations happened during commuting. I met a driver who sang very well. I often called him to pick me up from office. It’s not such a bad idea to unwind after a day’s of hard work in the company of a fellow Bihari, for long a synonym for ‘uncouth’ or ‘uncivilised’. Though such stereotyping is gradually declining. As my friend put it, “Nowadays colleagues are less horrified after listening to my Bhojpuri conversation with my mother over the phone.”
Sometime ago, I was in Motihari on an assignment. Once Mahatma Gandhi’s workplace during the Satyagraha Andolan, the area has seen some of the most gruesome political killings, and remained narcotics smuggling hub. I tried to see the families of some of the drivers I had met in Delhi. I had some phone numbers, so the task was slightly easy. I found Chandramohan’s father, Hira Prasad, himself working as a taxi driver. “I never wished to work in Delhi. There is more money there, but I like it here,” he said.
I also met Ali Imam, a science graduate and once a civil service aspirant, who proudly said that Motihari is where George Orwell was born in 1903. He owned a few vehicles. Not too far, Rajiv’s grandfather, Satyanarayan Jha, also drove an auto-rickshaw. I finally met Kalimullah’s father, Hadish. He proudly showed his house renovated with the money his son sent from Delhi.