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Crucial but invisible

delhi Updated: Sep 03, 2011 23:01 IST
Shreya Sethuraman
Shreya Sethuraman
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Your salary has just come in. You rush to the nearest ATM to withdraw some of it to go to the pub everyone has been raving about. You reach the venue, hand over your keys to the parking boy and tell him to handle your car. But, what do you know about him, or the guard at the ATM, or the bartender, who's been churning out cocktails by the dozen? Where do they live? And how do they live? Where have they come from?

As per the latest Census, the total provisional population of NCT Delhi is around 1.68 crores. It has the highest urban population (97.5%) compared to other states. But between 2001 and 2011, its rural population went down from 6.8% to 2.5%. A major reason was the removal of slum clusters from various parts of the city since 2001. Dr Sanjay Chugh, a senior consultant psychiatrist says, "Migration often produces a feeling of being unsettled. Although Delhi might seem like an improvement compared to their home, but at the end of the day, one does need the family."

Dr Jitender Nagpal, consultant psychiatrist, gets 7-10 cases every month of people coping with migration difficulties. "The human-to-human relation is better in smaller cities,"

says Nagpal, than in cities like Delhi, where people don't have time for their neighbours. And even less for the support staff.

(On Thursday, an overworked guard, a migrant, who had not been paid his wages or given his weekly offs, went on a shooting spree.)

Rakesh Mishra from Bihar, another security guard, who has been in Delhi since 1998, says many of his friends who had come to the capital, "moved to other cities, or went back to their villages."

While the MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) has tried to guaranteeing hundred days of wage-employment in a financial year to people in rural areas, a lot more needs to be done. The biggest problem, says Vipul Mudgal, who works with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, is "distress migration," when people move out of sheer desperation, and get their families with them into the cities as well.

MGNREGA is great to begin with to solve the problem people from rural areas, says Susan Visvanathan, professor at the Centre for Study of Social Systems at JNU, "but the debate must shift from minimum wages to rightful wages," she adds.

Pinku, 22
Parking boy, has Sunday off
From: Aurulia, Bihar
Left home: October 2010

'Delhi has no powercuts. They were a regular feature at home'
He parks around 200 cars in a day, the same ones day in and day out, but his favourite is the BMW, which doesn't come by his parking lot daily. Yes, Pinku, a parking boy at Janpath, has taken to Delhi rather well. "It's a nice city. It has no powercuts. They were a regular feature in my village," he says. When he is lucky, he earns as much as R10,000 a month parking cars. But he makes "at least Rs 5,000 and am pretty happy with that," he says.

Pinku has earlier worked as a courier boy, but he left the job within a few months. He has studied till Class X, but couldn't continue due to financial problems. He doesn't regret it. "I am glad I came to Delhi," he says.

Pinku begins work at 9 am and gets done by 8 pm. During the day, he meets all kinds of people.

"The funniest and the most irritating are the women," he says. "They're not polite and some get upset if their side-view mirror is pushed inside! If I don't do that, then another car might hit it. But when will they understand that?" His other grouses: the daily travel from his rented accommodation in Mandawali, East Delhi, especially during peak hours. But he looks forward to Sundays, the one day he can get up late and do whatever he wants.

For Pinku, Delhi is "a place where money speaks". He wants to be the thekedaar (contractor) of a parking area some day. But the more pressing desire, for now, is to watch his favourite actor Salman Khan's latest release, Bodyguard. "It will do even better than Dabangg," he predicts.

Sanjay Kumar, 20
Live-in domestic help
From: Chamba, Himachal Pradesh
Left home: February 2011

'I would play cricket in the gullies in Chamba. In Delhi, I can't'
The first thing that struck Sanjay Kumar when he came to Delhi was the surroundings. "My village is so much greener and pleasant. Here, you can see only buildings. The water in Himachal is also much better. I'm not used to the filtered water that we drink here," says the domestic help.

Leaving home also meant a postponement of some of his dreams. The 20-year-old dropped out of school after passing his Class X examinations, due to financial constraints. "But I do want to study further," he clarifies. "I'm just waiting to get used to Delhi and hope to join the Open School here." Kumar dreams of becoming an officer and to do "something for the country".

Language is not a problem for him — Kumar is conversant with Hindi, Punjabi, Pahadi and speaks broken English — but the culture is. "Since Delhi is a huge city and there are so many different kinds of people living here, I get confused about how I should behave with them." The typical Delhiite gets angry at the drop of a hat, he says.

Kumar has been working at South Extension for eight months. He has been home once. "I miss Chamba. I don't think Delhi is home yet as I'm still getting used to the way this city works. It'll probably take me another 3-4 months to adjust," says the youth who confesses that he misses playing cricket with his friends back home. "I've played a lot of cricket in the gullies in Chamba; I can't do that anymore here," he says wistfully but brightens up at the mention of his favourite cricketer — Virender Sehwag.


Paul Gangte, 28
Bartender at a café
From: Chandel, Manipur
Left home: August 2010

'I have met people who are so nice that I can share a drink with them'
The lack of job opportunities, coupled with the instability of a conflict zone led Paulalding — everybody calls him Paul — leave Manipur and come for work to Delhi. Paul sends home money every month. "It's my duty as a son. This is the least I can do," says the tall and smiling 28-year-old.

Paul is determined to embrace Delhi — and he has. He loves the nightlife and has made friends on the job. But it wasn't always so. "I found it difficult to adjust when I came. I'm not well versed in Hindi so interacting with people was a problem. But now I'm trying to learn the language."

Paul loves the fact that he can roam freely in the city given that he gets off from work at 3 am, something he couldn't dream of back in Manipur, where he never left home after 7 pm. The young bartender has met various kinds of people during his work-hours. Those who have been abusive, he has learnt to ignore. "It's tough not to get affected by what people say. But then I think they've had a lot to drink."

He is happy that his co-workers are cooperative and manage things on his behalf whenever the need arises. "There are some people I have met who are so nice that I can share a drink with them at other bars." Paul already feels like a Delhiite, despite his brief stay in the city. A Delhiite is a person who lives life king size, he thinks, and that's what Paul says he wants to do. His big dream — to become the F&B manager at Saket's Hard Rock Café. Some day.

Babinder Kumar, 24
Security guard at a bank
From: Sitamarhi, Bihar
Left home: July 2010

'I'm not really fond of this city, I don't want to be a Delhiite'
Babinder Kumar could find "no work" in his village, so he decided to move to a big city. At first, he took up the job of a telephone operator in Gurgaon but soon got bored of it. Next change — a security guard at a bank in South Extension. But crimes have been on the rise in the city, so he feels scared at times standing on guard, he says.

Each day, he checks the bags of almost 300 employees of the bank. Kumar's job requires him to work in shifts. "I spend half of what I earn as rent. And the other half, I spend on myself. Delhi is too expensive," he complains. He buys a ticket to a Shah Rukh Khan film — when he can. He tries not to miss any.

Kumar misses home though. "People here are very aggressive and uncontrolled in their anger. People are not like that back home," he says. "Some are good but there are those who always discriminate in some way or the other. Sometimes, it feels like people like me are invisible."

Money is never enough in the city, says Kumar, so he is pursuing his graduation in History from Bhimrao Ambedkar College through

correspondence and is taking computer lessons as well. He has a plan. He wants to make it big in the IT sector, but perhaps not in Delhi. "I'm not really fond of this city; I don't want to be a Delhiite," he says.

Somwati, 48
Cooks for South Delhi households
From: Anwarganj, Uttar Pradesh
Left home: July 2010

'Some employers are rude and really stretch me, but some have been welcoming, so it's been worth it'
Somwati, a cook, followed her children to Delhi. Her husband never really contributed a lot to the family income. He wasted whatever he earned on drink. "I realised I needed to work and have money of my own if I wanted to be independent and secure a better future for my children," says the resident of a village near Kanpur.

At first, Somwati tried to earn her bread by working in Kanpur. She finally moved to Delhi last year. The decision makes sense. "My son is working here, and my daughter is married and settled in Delhi as well. So it seemed the natural thing to do," she says.

Somwati's workday begins early, much early than any of ours. In fact, she says she doesn't need an alarm clock to wake her up at 4 am. That has been her daily routine for the past 20 years, ever since she started work as a cook.

She lives in Mithapur, near Badarpur, close to her daughter's home, and is very attached to her granddaughter. "She loves chocolates, so I get some for her every week," says Somwati. Somwati has to change two buses everyday to come to work in South Extension. Before she leaves home, she cleans her house and cooks for her family.

She has taken to Delhi well, except for the traffic, which makes it difficult for her to reach work on time. Winters are tough on her; visibility on the stretch near her house which she has to cross daily to reach the bus stop is low. "I have to be extremely careful. The area is not very safe for women to walk alone," she says.

She is satisfied with her employers. "My work pays me well. Some employers are rude and really stretch me, but there are some others, who have welcomed me into their family, so it's been worth the effort." Somwati doesn't have big dreams. All she wants, she says, is that her children be happy, and to keep working "all my life."


Mohd Irfan Alam, 18
Kathi-roll maker at a shopping area
From: Girdi, Jharkhand
Left home: October 2010

'I miss my mother's cooking. That is why I keep going to the Jama Masjid area'
Eid reminds Irfan of his family, especially of his mother cooking biryani at their home in Girdi. He learnt the art by observing her and the interest in cooking has served him well in Delhi. The shy 18-year-old travels from Shadipur (near Patel Nagar) and reaches his workplace at Janpath by 10.15 am and starts preparing kathis. "I make around 50 kathis a day. I feel happy that I can please people with my cooking," he says.

The greatest compliment he received, he says, came from a lady who said she hadn't eaten such rolls since she left Kolkata five years ago. (He honed his kathi-making skills in Janakpuri at his last job.)

Does Alam mind that he had to uproot himself from his home in Jharkhand? "I was never really interested in studies, and knew I had to leave home rather early to take to cooking full-time," he says. As he finds his feet in Delhi, he is able to send a decent amount of his earnings back home. That's his consolation even though he misses his family.

"I miss my mother's cooking. That's why I keep going to Jama Masjid. The food there is great, plus, I feel calm whenever I enter the masjid," he adds. In his free time, he watches television but feels lonely without a community to socialise with. "I don't see many smiling faces here. In Girdi, everyone greets everybody with a smile," he says. Irfan wants to move to Hyderabad. His brother and brother-in-law live there. "I'd love to be with them," he says.