He is holding onto the rear bumper of a fast moving auto, the wheels of his low-floor improvised wooden trolley making a clattering noise on the potholed street. The auto is turning left towards The Oberoi hotel flyover. Letting it go, he is steering his trolley across Mathura Road, maneuvering it by hands. The cars and scooters are not slowing to give him way. A blueline bus misses him just in time.
How much of the world 18-year-old Muhamamd Salim would have seen if the polio had not destroyed his legs? Three days ago he boarded Dakshin Express from Jhansi, his hometown in Uttar Pradesh, got down at Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station and made his way to Nizamuddin Basti, the 14th century Delhi village — all on his trolley. He’s been sleeping on the Basti’s principal street, a popular spot for pedestrians to urinate.
“I’ll return to Jhansi in a week,” says Salim in his raspy voice. Looking like a street romeo in his shiny brown shirt, he has a water bottle tucked into his jeans pocket. He has no money. “I get subzi-roti in the Dargah,” he says referring to the Sufi shrine in the neighbourhood. What did he have for breakfast? “Chai,” he says.
As Salim’s trolley rattles along the Mathura Road pavement, he says, “I’ve come here for sight-seeing.” Is he enjoying Delhi? “Enjoying?” he asks. “I’ve to crawl like an insect… you call this life?”
Then what it is? “I must earn,” he says. “If I could run a gutka stall or get a hand-ridden rickshaw...” In Jhansi, Salim’s father pulls a rickshaw. Can’t he get a disabled-friendly rickshaw there? “I have six sisters and three brothers back home and I want to live alone,” he says.
So what’s nice about sleeping on stinky footpaths here? “In Jhansi, there is nothing,” he says impatiently. “In Delhi, nobody ever goes hungry. I’m planning to move here for good. I want to make another beginning.”