City Hangout – Night Time Bus Shelters, Around Town
The other side of bus stands.
[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. Cloaked in night’s utter blackness, their luminosity is as reassuring as the sight of immovable lighthouses in dark, turbulent seas.
The capital has thousands of bus shelters. Over a couple of nights, The Delhi Walla caroused through the city, stopping by some of these dream-like sanctuaries.
The neon-lit panel at the bus shelter outside the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (Aiims) was promoting a bank’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 humidity, 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.
The adjacent bus shelter showed the city’s chief minister declaring a yudh (war) against the dengue mosquitoes. Their shelter too was full with citizens. Only one man among them 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.
Further south, the bus shelter outside a gigantic 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, a skinny dog was 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, auto-rickshaw 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 defensively. Mr Mahto’s auto-rickshaw stood mutely in front of the bus stand. It looked like a boat ready to sail again into the night tide.
A bus shelter near Defence Colony was cloaked in darkness, as if it had gone to deep sleep. But a rickshaw was parked just beside the bench on which a man was sitting. Probably the rickshaw puller himself, his eyes were open but he was as silent as a grave.
To the lighthouses