Turning to her left, she quietly listened to the roar of a Blueline bus. It went away but there was no silence. Cars were driving down on her right. Noor Bano (below), 58, was, however, not looking harassed. I met her a few months ago on the divider of the Lodhi Road.
Being homeless, sleeping on pavements, wearing the same clothes continuously for a month… no one willingly chooses to live such a life. But the grey-haired Bano said, “It’s okay. I’m used to it.” For more than twenty years, Bano had been sleeping on this divider in Lodhi Road, opposite Aap ki Khatir, the popular kebab joint in Nizamuddin Basti, a 14th century village in central Delhi.
It was not always like that.
Once, Bano was a girl in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. She had parents, two sisters, a brother. Her home had walls, windows, and a roof. After marrying Alam Akhtar, a rickshaw puller, she moved to Delhi. The new life was good. They had a house. There was a bed with pillows, a shared toilet; a corner in the room was converted into a kitchen, complete with a stove and masala boxes. In that house, Bano gave birth to two sons.
The bad days started with Akhtar’s ‘gas problems’ that led to his death. In no condition to pay the room rent, Bano had to move out with her two sons. Why she did not find work instead? “Son, see there,” said Bano pointing towards the traffic light. “Once I was crossing the road and was hit by a scooter.” Bano showed me her paralysed left leg.
“I never beg,” she suddenly said. “Sometimes people give me money and sometimes my sons find some work.” In this way, she would make 50 daily. As we talked, the night traffic whooshed past with great speed and noise on both sides of the divider. “I don’t think any bus or car would run into us. These things never happen.”
What did happen, according to Bano, were the occasional drives by cops to clear the divider of beggars. It would usually take place after midnight when a sleeping Bano, along with other homeless people, would be ordered to leave the road. She would then go to sleep under the nearby Oberoi Hotel flyover.
That was her second home, more so during the monsoons. It may as well be her permanent home now, for the road divider has been demolished and is being rebuilt in preparation for the Commonwealth Games.When I had met Bano, she owned just a single set of clothes. “This is all I have,” she pointed, without self-pity, at her salwar-suit and dupatta. Each morning, she walked into a public toilet to have a shower and to wash her clothes.
While waiting for them to dry, she wrapped herself in the dupatta. But one day, the salwaar-kameez would turn into shreds. “Someone will then give me another pair,” she says. Bano said she passed her day hours sitting on the roadside. “Don’t you get bored?” She laughed. “Then I start praying.” But that couldn’t beat loneliness. “Alone I came out of my Amma’s womb. Alone I’ll leave this world.”