City Walk – GB Road, Near New Delhi Railway Station
A 5 am stroll.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
A stroll through the red-light district is not everybody’s cup of tea. Definitely not so early in the winter morning when it is still dark. Even so. You could start your walk from Hanuman Mandir where the young priest is preparing for the morning aarti, and the temple cow is already awake.
Further ahead, a few sex workers are lounging in a corridor that runs along the entire stretch, awaiting customers. One woman in a shawl is perched alongside a small fire rustled up from twigs and paper scraps.
Introducing herself as Julie, she says her work shift “normally begins at midnight, and I’ll return to my kamra (room) one hour later.”
She gestures towards an unlit staircase behind her, implying that it leads to her room on the first floor.
This otherwise sleepy corridor is also alive with a few more women sitting on the dusty floor, some drinking chai.
Another section of this corridor is occupied by men in lungis, who are daily wage labourers. “This is our home,” says Multana, a young migrant from Motihari in Bihar, explaining that they sleep on this very pavement at night. During the day, they transport loads on wooden trolleys in the nearby markets. Most men are still asleep, but one man in a monkey cap is cooking a heavy breakfast of dal-chawal on a single-burner kerosene stove. This part of the corridor smells of blankets, quilts and mustard oil.
The road ahead sees a couple of food carts, where some men are huddled around, waiting to be served omelette-toast. Two of them are friends who spent a part of the night in an establishment (they call it a “kotha”). Nearby, a man is lying flat on the ground, “probably drunk,” the omelette seller remarks.
Beyond, stands New Delhi railway station, a vastly different world.
Along the red light