City Life – Women at Work, South Delhi
Long walk to duty.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The late morning is still cool as if this were February, not April. The air is swelling with bird sounds. A koyal is crying out without a moment’s break. The street is carpeted with dry crinkly leaves that probably fell from the trees the day before.
The two women, each carrying a long broom, are quietly sweeping these leaves into small piles.
Even as a substantial chunk of Delhi’s people are feeling restless in their house-bound isolation following the lockdown triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, Santosh and Lajwanti are carrying on with their working life. As if nothing has changed.
This is true only upto a point.
“These days we are coming to work on foot,” says Santosh, pointing out the most significant change in her daily life.
The masked women are employees of South Delhi Municipal Council, and have been working as sweepers for many years. Both are dressed in a blue uniform of salwar and kurta.
Lajwanti explains that they are unable to find buses early in the morning and so have to walk all the way from home “to duty” in this quiet south Delhi residential enclave.
“I come from Badarpur Khadar,” she says. Santosh walks all the way from Mehrauli.
It takes each of them about two hours in this unusual commute from home.
Santosh wakes up at 5.30 in the morning. “I get ready, make myself parathas, butter toast and chai” and, after fortifying herself with the breakfast, she begins her long walk.
Lajwanti’s morning ritual is no different. She remarks that “one has to sacrifice a lot of comfort to make a living.”
The other woman nods.
Meanwhile, the street is empty. The windows in the surrounding multi-storey houses are closed.
“Sometimes people offer us water from their houses,” Lajwanti says, adding, “Mostly, nobody bothers about us.”
Santosh believes that “people think we might be carrying the infection, and so are scared of approaching us.”
They now return their attention to the fallen leaves on the street.
Suddenly, a window in an adjacent house creaks opens, and an elderly man in white kurta pajama peeks out. Next instant, he shuts it close.
Lajwanti and Santosh hopes to finish the work by late afternoon. They will then walk back to their home. “We usually reach by 3 or 3.30 pm,” says Santosh.
And, at home, they will enjoy a long deserving rest.
Working life in the times of corona