Beacons of light.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Post-midnight, the bus shelters in Delhi lose their daytime ordinariness, and are infused with unearthly splendour.
Gleaming with electrical lights and publicity panels, each shelter transmutes into a rectangle of radiance. Framed in night’s utter blackness, their luminosity is as reassuring as the sight of immovable lighthouses in dark, turbulent seas.
According to the city’s transport department, the Capital has more than 4,500 bus shelters. And quite a few are neat, stainless-steel wonders.
One night The Delhi Walla drove through the city, stopping by some of these dream-like sanctuaries.
The neon-lit panel at one of the bus shelters outside the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) was promoting the State Bank of India’s digital service. The female model’s smile lay frozen as a multitude of men and women lay sprawled on the paved floor — some of them were tossing in the unbearable heat, others were fanning themselves with folded Hindi newspapers. Two men lay on the shelter’s stainless-steel bench.
All these people had come to the Capital hoping to get gravely ailing loved ones admitted to the famed government hospital. Too poor to check into hotels, they had converted the bus shelter into a lodge. Only one man was sitting upright — his head was on his knees. Pointing to a teenage boy sleeping by his side, the tired-looking Narain Singh, who had arrived two days earlier from Agra, said: “Keshav, my son. He is having great pain inside his mouth. The doctor said that we should show him in ‘Medical’. We haven’t been able to meet the doctor-sahib. We will again try tomorrow morning.”
Mr Singh’s wife woke up on hearing him talk, her arm instinctively coming to rest on her son’s shoulder.
The bus shelter outside the Select Citywalk mall in Saket was devoid of commuters, save for a young man in blue jeans and black shirt. He was sitting with his legs crossed. Opting not to give his name, he said, “I’m waiting for my friend.”
A more crowded bus shelter on the Mehrauli-Badarpur Road looked like the breakaway fragment of a sunny afternoon — it was washed in white fluorescent light. The workday had just ended for the four men standing there. Waiters at a restaurant nearby, their shift had ended a few minutes earlier, and they were waiting for the night-bus service.
An hour later, in Kailash Colony, I spotted a skinny dog sitting alone on a bus-shelter bench. It was looking to its right, the way we do while waiting for a bus.
Not far away, at another bus stand, autorickshaw driver Ram Sagar Mahto was hastily swallowing cold rotis with chickpea curry and cucumber salad. “My wife made it,” he said, throwing away a substantial portion of the meal under the bench. “I will feel sleepy if I eat more,” he added.
Mr Mahto’s autorickshaw stood mutely in front of the bus stand. It looked like a boat ready to sail again into the night tide.
To the lighthouse.