Delhi Winter – Fireside Camaraderie, Mathura Road
Life in winter.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It’s the rush hour evening. The traffic is flowing nonstop on Mathura Road. Nirmal Kumar Das was walking on the pavement, not far from Salman, who was walking not far from Jai Shankar. The men weren’t aware of each other’s existence until some minutes ago. But the extreme cold brought them together, creating camaraderie in the common discomfort. They started to chat, and soon came up with the idea of lighting an impromptu fire. Jai Shankar had a plastic thaili, Nirmal had a match box (because he is a beedi smoker), while chunks of wood were found beside the road.
And now they are huddled around the fireside, even as buses and cars are whizzing past within a touching distance of them, even as the nauseating fumes of burnt plastic is hurting the eyes and nose.
The three men are currently addressless. Nirmal, from Purnia in Bihar, calls himself a beldar (daily-wage labourer), and have been in Delhi for 20 years. Labourer Salman arrived two days back from Gwalior, MP, in search of work, but had his wallet and mobile phone stolen while getting off the train. Jai Shankar reached Delhi a month ago “when it wasn’t that cold.” Although he is from Raebareli, UP, he had been for many years a labourer in Punjab. He says he walked on foot all the way from Ludhiana to Delhi. The other two men look at him in disbelief. “There was no money for train or bus,” Jai Shankar mumbles, putting his head on the knees.
While Nirnal spends his nights “wherever I happen to find work, or else in a mandir or gurudwara,” Salman have spent his two Delhi nights outside the railway station, and Jai Shankar sleeps on any random roadside “as long as I can find a tree above and a wall for sahara (support).” Each man has a bag filled with spare sets of clothes and a blanket. Jai Shankar has a bed sheet, too. In cold months, night shelters for the homeless come up across Delhi, an option so far not considered by the three men.
Talking of his day, Nirmal says he was at the Labour Chowk in Bharat Nagar from morning until two in the afternoon, and couldn’t land any assignment. Silence follows; everyone is gazing at the fire.
Since all the three men have a family home in their respective villages, why not go back, and return after this brief cruel spell of extreme winter is over.
Nirmal says: “My ghar wale haven’t seen me for many years… they might not even recognize me.”
Salman: “Just a day’s kaam might give me enough rupees to afford a ticket to Gwalior.”
Jai Shankar: “My family says I must stay in Dilli and work.”
The men leave the spot some minutes after the fire dies.