Citizen Profile – A Coolie's Chronicle

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A Coolie's Chronicle

A porter’s life in the Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station.

[as told to Mayank Austen Soofi; picture is also by him]

Salam alaikum from Salim Khan. My days as coolie in the Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station are always same. They begin with chai, biskut, and Dakshin Express. It arrives early morning at paach pachees (5:25) followed by Bangalore Rajdhani, Indore Intercity, Goa Express…At 10 pm, Taj Express returns from Gwalior. The day ends with the body aching in pain. I either rub sarson ka tel on my legs, or take brufen I carry in my pocket.

It was ten years ago when I came to Delhi for the job interview. I had read about the vacancy in my village in Rajasthan. The afsar-log asked me to lift a 40-kg load. My joints hurt and I felt humiliated but had to take the naukri. We have no fertile land and no future back home.

At least cooligiri gives us daily income. Sometimes we make Rs 100, or even Rs 300. But I can’t earn enough for my six children living in the village. I can’t even have them live here. No way can I afford to pay for one whole room. I currently share a room in Sarai Kale Khan with five other coolies. My oldest son, Yosuf, visited me last year. One night he woke me to say that he would never become a coolie. He dreams to be a doctor. But…money?

This week* we were listening to the budget in a naai ki dukaan. Laluji announced that we would be given Class IV class status. May he live long. Now we have izzat. We will be salaried employees, not mere daily wagers. Some coolies are saying we will get Rs 7000 monthly. Some say the Pay Commission would increase it to Rs 12,000. I will call my family here.

*In his railway budget speech on February 26, 2008, India’s railway minister Lalu Prasad Yadav announced several sops including the granting of class IV employee status to railway porters