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Raju pehle se hi Gentleman

An enquiry on the understanding of the word migrant

"When we read a-p-p-l-e, then we imagine a red colour apple in our mind. Similarly, when we utter m-i-g-r-a-n-t-s, we begin to imagine or relating images of despair, tendencies of hunger, a struggle for living, a pull and push between the rural and the urban, even aspiration, hope and belief."

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Migrants. The word when spoken and/or heard connotes an image. In the words of Ram Shankar Nikumbh “jab aap a-p-p-l-e padte hai, tab aap aapke dimaage mein ek laal rang apple bana lete hai” (When you read a-p-p-l-e, then you make a red red colour apple in your mind). Similarly, when we utter m-i-g-r-a-n-t-s, we begin to imagine or relating images of despair, tendencies of hunger, a struggle for living, a pull and push between the rural and the urban, even aspiration, hope and belief. Importantly, it also invokes the idea of the “working class.” Not that migrants are always synonymous with the working profile, for people, mostly women who marry and move are also migrants. But for the moment let us focus on the immediate provocation that the notion of migrants communicates to our brain – working class and the adjectives related to this class who frame the bottom end of the urban ladder.  

With this default profile imagination of the migrants, we tend to easily identify them while moving across the city. That construction worker with the yellow helmet, the crowd arriving at the railway station with belongings loaded on top of their, that rickshaw puller, that floating vendor selling balloons on the street, the security man next door and even that little child scampering up the sand dumped alongside the road. The moment we spot them – we know that they don’t quite belong here; and that they are trying to make a living by coming to a city. A reciprocation that they should well be migrants. This image is fed into our brains even through art practices. None more strongly than movies, especially Hindi movies. Films like Naya Daur, Shree 420, Mother INDIA, are all standing examples that communicate this connotation. Movies of Manoj Kumar more importantly Dilip Kumar – the poster boy of Nehru’s modern INDIA is an emphasis of this image that straddle between struggle and hope.  It reflects the post-Industrial age of INDIA, depicted aptly, dramatically and delivered succinctly.



noun: migrant, plural noun: migrants

  • an animal that migrates.

  • a worker who moves from place to place to do seasonal work.


  • 1.tending to migrate or having migrated

work·ing class


  • the social group consisting of people who are employed for wages, especially in manual or industrial work


  • relating to people belonging to the working class

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Series 1 (L - R) : Raj Kapoor (Shree 420); Dilip Kumar (Naya Daur); Shah Rukh Khan (Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman); Ayuhsman Khuranna (Bewakoofiyan); Ranbir Kapoor (Rocket Singh -Salesman of the Year)

However, today, it is no more the post–industrial INDIA. It is an INDIA that is going global, it is an INDIA of business, an INDIA that is 51% open to FDI and an INDIA that is economically liberated. So, what question does this prompt? Why do we have migrants? No. Conversely the question is, why then when we speak of migrants we are still prompted to think of that same red apple? In fact, the questions that arises is that when the age that we live has developed so much, why is that our mind is still bracketed by the same idea of migrants? It is not even a thought that is passed on by culture, race, beliefs, traditions – and all those terminologies that we use as an excuse to limit us from thinking. In all honesty, it is a case of prejudice. Our human conditioning limits us from looking around and looking beyond. ‘Migrant’ in its truest definition is not the image that we have so well pictured in the mind, it is simply someone who moves from one place to another to find work or better living conditions. Then, why the conceived bias?

If one were to just go by the pure definition and relate to the back to the Hindi films, one is prompted to think about the early 1990’s classic Raju Ban Gaya Gentlemen. Remember the film? The engineer Raju, portrayed by none other than King Khan.The engineer from Darjeeling who comes to Bombay in search of work. The film was inspired in fact from the 1950’s movie Shree 420.  So, to play out an idea of the migrant, let us for a moment recreate Raju in the 2000’s.

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So, Raju arrives now to Mumbai. This time not by sitting through a long train journey, but he is arranged a flight. His arrival is not marked by an overwhelming impact of the city that he is expected to navigate. He, in fact boards the pre-booked taxi and arrives at his destination. Not much luggage in his hand, not because he cannot afford it but for his company has already given him an allowance to cargo his luggage to his residence. Oh, and yes, did you notice, he has come not quite looking for a job. Not with any pressure, unlike the other Raju portrayed by King Khan.

In one of the classic scenes of the movie, King Khan portraying Raju aka Raj Mathur is seen carrying his curriculum vitae under his arm and limping down the neighborhood lane due to a broken shoe sole. Though in the movie, this scene is portrayed to invoke a dialogue with the female protagonist still unknown to him, it also underlines articulately both the sense of desperation and desire of the character – the migrant in the city.  

In contrast, today’s Raju, does not evoke such emotions. For he has already emailed his Curriculum vitae, knows what his remuneration is. He has not come to the city in search of a job. He has just arrived for better living conditions or rather living opportunities.  The current Raju doesn’t look around upwards, towards other neighbours so that they recognize him for he has a tag slung around his neck that gives him his identity.  Yes, he already has an identity that the city identifies him with, unlike the Raju who must make an identity, or least a presence of himself felt. Raju now is punctual, not hurried for he doesn’t have to push through the crowd to make a mark, he just nonchalantly walks every day from the house where a hired vehicle takes him to work and brings him back daily. On some days, of course Raju can also choose to ‘work from home’ – a luxury that eluded the Raju of the 1900’s.

We all know this Raju, don’t we? Of course, we do. He is one among the many migrants that walk across the city every day. We see him, we stand with him, we walk with him, but we don’t classify him.  This Raju; is also borne out of an economic shift in the country, also comes from another town to the city, also goes to work but somehow the tag of ‘migrant’ eludes him. Why? The answer is quite simple, he is not the same red apple we perceive in the mind when we speak of a migrant. Strangely, for some reason today’s Raju even classifies the earlier Raju very eloquently as a migrant, the moment he identifies one. But is completely blind and dismissive to his own existence of belonging to the same bracket.



  • relating to economics or the economy

  • justified in terms of profitability.

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Series 2 (L - R) : the labourer; the objects; the clothing; the workmanship; the travel

"Strangely, for some reason today’s Raju even classifies the earlier Raju very eloquently as a migrant, the moment he identifies one. But is completely blind and to an extent dismissive to his own existence of belonging to the same bracket."

Series 3 (L - R) : the professional; the essentials; the dress code; the applications; the commute 

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Is this the only new Raju, of our recent times. No. You, me and many of us are various kinds of Raju – the migrant. This Raju is a breed given birth by special economic reforms and globalization – like the earlier Raju – bred out of systemic reforms. Is this then a comparative between the two? Not really, that is just the face of it. In comprehension this new breed of migrant raises two distinct acceptance conditions. One at the level of the city and the second at the level of the community.


For the kind of dynamic this working breed brings into the city, they are not seen at the bottom of the urban ladder, not the least. In fact, they create separate special risers in the ladder – in terms of modes of transport, not just modes, the additional requirement of commuting; the shifts in the working time of the city; the new ways of monetary exchange through coupons; the special timings of eating joints and so on and so forth that the city tends to adjust to them to accommodate them rather than the other way around. They create a condition, unlike the ‘typical’ migrants we recognise who work bottom up. This breed explodes right through the heart of the city and then the city constantly, at regular intervals takes measures to align itself around these demands. They are a demanding cult of workers, that get their voice across not through unions or dharnas (protests); but neither are they silent. They just make the demands and the rest just accommodate. Is this good or bad? Correct or incorrect? We are not here to make a judgement. This is what it is, and it is for us to just recognise it.

Recognise. It is important word as it brings down to the notion of the acceptance at the community level. We all recognise them and accept them as part of us. That is good. We do not exclude. Then why do we exclude or look at the other migrants differently from these ones? What is the denominator that makes us suddenly feel so empathetic and sympathetic to the others? Empathy and sympathy both borne not out of concern but caused due to the lack of feeling inclusive with them. Almost pitiful because they give us a sense that they are ‘migrants’. We need to move beyond our own brackets, expand our minds and may be just sing “re apna Raju hero hai aur hum Raju ke fan” (our Raju is a hero, and we are his fan.) The word ‘hero’ signifying acceptance and ‘fan’ implying belonging. This for all the Raju’s. Not just the ones whom we are waiting to become a gentleman; but also for the current breed whom we blindly and readily accept as pehle se hi (from the beginning) a gentleman and not a migrant. Isn’t that right?

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  • a chivalrous, courteous, or honourable man.

  • a polite or formal way of referring to a man.



  • a representation of the external form of a person or thing in art.

  • the general impression that a person, organization, or product presents to the public.


make a representation of the external form of.

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