They walked, the parents, wife and children, while he wheeled a cycle with jerrycans and bundles loaded on and his 12-year-old differently-abled daughter cradled in a cloth sack tied to the side.
Earlier this week, as the lockdown was extended for the fourth time, Mukesh Kumar decided Delhi was no longer the place for him or his family and they would head to their village in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, even if it meant walking every step of the 500 km distance.
It was a precarious existence — dependent on his livelihood repairing tin trunks and iron buckets — to begin with. And with no work coming his way, starvation lay ahead.
So, the family of nine, Mukesh, his parents, wife and five children, the youngest less than a year old, set out from their home under a flyover in Palam in southwest Delhi on the long walk to their village.
While he pushed the cycle, the others walked alongside, some holding bags, others unwieldy bundles on their heads, some barefeet as they walked on the hot tarred road under a scorching sun and others wearing flimsy footwear.
Komal, his physically challenged daughter, could not walk or sit so she was put into a cloth sack strapped to the cycle. And that’s when PTI photojournalist Arun Sharma captured them, his lens mirroring both their determination to forge on ahead and their desperate situation.
But their journey was cut short at Ghazipur near the Uttar Pradesh border and the family was sent back.
“We were stopped at Ghazipur along with others. I decided to return to Palam since I had no money,” Mukesh told PTI.
The family lived in a hutment in Palam village but it was demolished about three years ago, and settled down under a flyover. And that’s the home they returned to, now biding their time along with dozens of others, entirely dependent on charity for food.
“I did not earn much even before lockdown but now work has completely dried up and my family is completely at the mercy of the good hearted people who occasionally provide us food and ration. We at least have our home in Unnao,” Mukesh, who is in his 30s, said.
Sitting next to him, his father Munnilal said his life has come full circle. He came to Delhi in search of work and now wants to return to Unnao because there is no life or livelihood in the big city.
He worked in a teashop for a while, as a construction labourer and then helping his son. The city didn’t do much for him then, and even now, he said.
“There is nothing for us here now. Life was tough earlier but now there is no way but to go back home,” Munnilal said.
With no money or any other resource at his disposal, Mukesh has no idea how he will take his family back to Unnao.
“I have heard the government is sending people to their homes in buses and trains,” Mukesh said.
Armed with nothing but a basic mobile phone, he has no idea of how the online registration process for sending migrants to their homes through Shramik Special trains works.
“I do not know anything about it,” Mukesh said, showing his phone.
Taking each day as it comes, he is now waiting for the lockdown to be relaxed. And maybe earn some money to take his family home.