Secrets of the night.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The white-haired man is shrouded in smoke. An empty egg crate is smoldering dangerously close to his bare feet. But he is fast asleep; his sandals are parked under his pillow. Further ahead, a woman is similarly lying asleep on the pavement; she too has an egg crate burning beside her. She is also submerged in smoke.
One summer night The Delhi Walla comes across a couple of people sleeping on a pavement in Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti.
The woman has a child beside her. Opening her eyes, she says, “The smoke keeps the mosquitoes away. Otherwise, this bachha (baby) is unable to sleep.” The woman goes back to sleep.
Next night, I’m back on the lane again. This time the same woman is lying on the pavement with two more children. She is awake. Introducing herself as Shabana Begum, she says, “They are my daughter’s children… she has gone out and will return soon… we are from Hyderabad… I’m living on this footpath for more than 20 years.”
The woman says that a single egg crate burns out in an hour. Waving towards a stack of crates placed over her belongings, she says, “One crate comes for a rupee… I get them from a shop.” She then gets up and starts to fan her daughter’s children with a piece of cardboard.
The fumes of the pavement