This is Surendra Pal preparing for a night’s rest. Pal works as caretaker of a public toilet in the National Capital Region.
He is a farmer from Banda in UP. Frustrated by crop failure and worried about college fee of his younger siblings and wife, he came to Delhi looking for work five years ago.
With no professional qualifications, Pal’s only option was to join the city’s huge informal workforce.
His salary isn’t lucrative, but his job offers a place to sleep: A bed by the roadside, and easy access to the toilet’s guardroom when the weather takes a turn for the worse. He saves on rent; he can’t ask for more.
Thousands of people migrate to Delhi every year in search of livelihood. Not all of them are as lucky as Pal.
Delhi has been a melting pot for people from across the country, especially the Hindi heartland.
Most of the people headed for the metropolis are rural-to-urban migrants. They come with hardly any skills and very little education. Low-paid, blue-collar jobs are their only alternative. They know survival is difficult.
The perennial quest for money triggers a constant struggle between a good night’s sleep and their savings. Often, they opt for a hard night’s sleep to protect their savings.
“What’s the point in renting a room? That’s an extra burden of Rs 3,000-4,000”
“I earn Rs 400-500 a day and send it to my family. I sleep here”
This dimly lit place near Jama Masjid is one of the migrants’ many unofficial resting places in the city. As the night deepens, workers in low-paid jobs gather here to catch some sleep.
But they must be prepared for Delhi’s extreme weather.
Vinod works as an office cleaner in Old Delhi. He can easily afford to buy blankets and quilts to face the city’s harsh winters. But he has no place to keep them.
Delhi winters have been less severe this year. But when the temperature drops too low, Vinod needs to take help from Mansoor.
Mansoor stocks quilts, mattresses and charpoys in the Parade Ground parking area. As night descends, his makeshift shop comes to life. Homeless workers queue up to rent bedding for the night, which they must return at dawn.
Current rents in the area are Rs 40 a night for a cotton quilt and mattress. Those wanting a charpoy would have to shell out an extra 10 bucks. As demand rises, prices may go up.
“Many workers don’t have a place to keep quilts. So they rent them from us”
Harsh winters are good news for merchants like Mansoor. They make thousands of rupees a night. But for poor migrants, it’s a huge financial burden.
“Contractors charge between Rs 25-50 for a set of mattress, quilt and charpoy. We don’t have place for a charpoy here. We have to spend Rs 40 daily for quilts and mattresses”
A month of rented bedding means an additional burden of at least Rs 1200, not all of the migrants are willing to bear the cost.
“I rent bedding only when the temperature drops too low”
“Circumstances force us to live in exile. All we want is to make money for our families”
Many of them choose nights of exile to keep the hearth burning. And all they look for in Delhi is a place to rest at night, not a roof to sleep under.