City Season – Fireside Bonds, Chemlsford Road
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It’s a super-cold December evening in central Delhi’s Chelmsford Road. Five men are huddled around a pavement fireside.
Three are sitting on their haunches; the others are standing, including Bholu who lost his right leg in a road accident years ago.
The men are chatting as if they are longtime acquaintances. “But we met each other for the first time only half an hour ago,” laughs Janki Ram.
The credit for the impromptu gathering goes to Bablu who collected pieces of wood and dry leaves to start a fire.
“And then these men started to stop by one after another,” he mutters in mock anger before breaking into a smile.
All the men live on the pavements, they say. Extending his hands over the dancing flames, a shivering Ramesh confesses that “I usually keep to myself, don’t talk to people because everybody in Delhi is out to get you.”
His view is shared by Bukka Ram who cheerily declares that Dilli is a “qatil sheher” peopled by murderers and back-stabbers.
This assertion causes a few of the guys to chuckle.
Suddenly a foreigner with a backpack passes by, wearing shorts. Ramesh turns to him, asking in English, “Give what you want to give, I’ll be happy.”
The passerby stops, looks on confusedly, and walks away. The men are amazed by Ramesh’s command over English, clapping appreciatively. Ramesh says he learnt it from foreigners in Paharganj’s Main Bazar. He claims he could speak French too.
Time passes. Bholu now shows the guys his amputated leg.
One of his new mates adjusts a muffler around Bholu to cover his stump.
By now, most of the wood is burnt.
The assembly breaks up. The pavement gets empty. Next morning the ashes might denote where these men’s fleeting solidarity was.