City Home – Roomies in Winter, Near Delite Cinema
Home in the city.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The day was clear and sunny, so the night will be much colder. This is his analysis. The bearded gentleman is one of the nine labourers—Kalam, Saleem, Kumrul, Abil, Javed, Raziq, Prakash, Mannu, Pappu—living together in a small street-facing enclosure close to the Delite Cinema in Old Delhi.
It is evening, the deserted lane outside is plunged in semi-darkness. The enclosure is dimly lit with a small white lamp. The place feels as isolated as a hut in a village where each home becomes a solitary island after the sunset. Most of the men are huddled around a dying fire; a few others are lying sprawled towards the corners, absorbed in their mobile phones. These are some of the things some of them say, responding to queries:
“We all from Bihar… from Purnia, from Katihar….”
“We carry sacks of Badarpur cement on our thelas to construction sites across Purani Dilli. Even in the most extreme cold, our bodies quickly heat up as we drag the thela with our hands. We start to sweat. It then feels like summer.”
“But our bodies are not made of iron. We feel cold too.”
“In the evening we make fire from the wood that we pick up from construction sites. We light the fire on a tasla—-we purchased this new tasla last month from Chitli Qabar for 200 rupees.”
“The fire lasts for about two hours, the warmth it creates in our small packed room stays for the whole night… each of us needs just a single blanket.”
“A truly warm blanket comes for about 800 rupees.”
“Rajai gives more warmth.”
“Buying rajai is expensive, and the winter lasts for only a few weeks.”
“Once the winter ends, we will fold our blankets and store it inside our bag.”
By now the fire has completely died. The ash-filled tasla is continuing to emit warmth.