Delhi Winter – Bhola’s New Blanket, Near Sarai Kale Khan
Life in winter.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The chilly 11pm air is burning the bare portions of the skin. A car slows down by the pavement, here near the Ashram crossing. The front window opens. Instantly, the people lying flat on the footpath get up and rush towards the window, flinging behind their blankets and sheets. The woman passenger sitting by the window begins to quickly hand out slim bundles to these almost-invisible figures. Each bundle has a plastic-wrapped blanket. More and more people get up, and start to run after the car, which keeps moving slowly. It is astonishing that this city pavement that had seemed almost empty was actually full of citizens, who were either asleep or were simply lying down.
Amid this commotion, rickshaw puller Bhola Singh pedals hurriedly to reach close to the car. He urgently taps on the driver’s closed window. The driver throws a glance at Bhola, nods, picks a bundle from the aforementioned woman, pulls down his window, and hands it to the puller—all of this unfolds in a split second. Bhola keeps the package neatly along the length of his rickshaw’s handlebar and pedals ahead, escorting his passenger to the latter’s destination.
Unlike the people on the footpath, Bhola does have a roof. He shares a “kamra” with three other rickshaw pullers in Sarai Kale Khan village. “Why shouldn’t I have taken the blanket when it was being given for free,” he asks. By now, the car has picked up speed, driving away into the cold darkness.
Packed in a thick jacket and woolen gloves, Bhola says his room in Kale Khan remains warm even in the coldest time of winter “because our kamra is small and we are many.” Plus, there are more than enough blankets for everyone. “Kambal saaf hain,” he says approvingly of the new blanket. Bhola plans to pack it tight in his suitcase; he will not use it immediately. He has other plans for this pink blanket. It will next travel with him at the end of the cold season—he says—just before Holi, when he will board the train to his village in Munger, Bihar. “My biwi-bachhe at home will use this blanket during the next winter.”
After dropping off his customer, Bhola agrees to pose with his new possession, explaining, “I have two sons and two daughters, I’m trying to educate them… they need all the comforts I can arrange for them.”