City Life - Auto Drivers in Heat Wave, Around Town

City Life – Auto Drivers in Heat Wave, Around Town

City Life - Auto Drivers in Heat Wave, Around Town

Working in extreme temperature.

[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]

The sun’s glare was repeatedly hitting the auto rickshaw’s windshield. It was not even ten in the morning, but the road, the roadsides, and the trees along the roadsides were flooded with hot white light. So much white that it was hurting his eyes, driver Mahadev Kumar says, recalling his first half of the day. The pain inside his head was picking up intensity.

Since Delhi’s green-and-yellow auto rickshaws are open on both sides, their drivers have to absorb the full blast of the summer season’s wrath, all through the day. One auto rickshaw driver copes with the heatwave-like conditions by tying a wet gamcha, length-wise, along the steering to prevent the sun rays from falling straight on his arms.

Anyways, it was almost noon when Mahadev Kumar dropped a customer, here on a central Delhi avenue. He then parked the auto rickshaw under the shade of this huge peepal tree, got up from the driver’s seat, and claimed the long passenger seat on the back, curving his body into a fetal position. He woke up moments ago. The pain in the head is gone, he says, explaining that he has been taking a two-hour-long break during the peak heat.

Some auto rickshaw drivers, he says, confront the extreme heat by covering the rickshaw’s rexine roof with cardboard sheets sourced from discarded cartons. Many drivers also tend to wrap their water bottle in a cotton cloth, the evaporation keeps the water cool. A few even resort to the old-fashioned hand-fan (the drivers find the small electric fan unpractical—the breeze it produces is super-hot and the fan itself is liable to be stolen because of the auto’s open build).

Returning to his seat following the nap, driver Mahadev Kumar intently gazes at a pavement barber shaving a customer. The simple stall is partly shaded by a tree’s dense green foliage. He continues to stare at the barber, who on noticing that he is being watched waves at the driver. Mahadev Kumar turns away his head. In the summer, he says, many “kothi wale” install cold water filters for passers-by outside their bungalow gate. He stops to refill his bottle each time he spots such a free facility. He now restarts his auto rickshaw, and leaves the tree shade, re-entering into the city’s hot white light.

Steps ahead, another auto rickshaw comes to a halt, under the shade of another tree. Driver Shiv Kumar has stopped to drink water.

Lives in hostile weather

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City Life - Auto Drivers in Heat Wave, Around Town

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City Life - Auto Drivers in Heat Wave, Around Town

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City Life - Auto Drivers in Heat Wave, Around Town

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City Life - Auto Drivers in Heat Wave, Around Town

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City Life - Auto Drivers in Heat Wave, Around Town

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City Life - Auto Drivers in Heat Wave, Around Town