From traffic cops to deliverymen: They toil and serve even as Delhi sizzles
As heatwave gripped the city over the last week, and the mercury expected to remain over the 40 degree mark, how does one cope if the job demands you to stand under the sun for several hours at a stretch? On Sunday when the maximum temperature was 42.8°C and humidity levels at 30%, Hindustan Times went across the city and spoke to different persons for whom the summer is not always pleasant.
Sleeping on the pavement under a flyover, barely 30 steps away from two free government-run shelter homes near Nigambodh Ghat in North Delhi, was Shyam Girri. The 21-year old man from Darbhanga in Bihar said his work as a waiter at parties and weddings does not earn him enough money for him to stay in a rented room, “not even in a jhuggi”.
Despite having his right leg severely injured after a food counter stall used at weddings fell on his leg, Girri like many others in that area choose the streets and parks over the shelter homes. They said they prefer the occasional natural breeze outside than the “stuffy shelters”.
“ Yes, the roads are unsafe but we prefer sleeping out. The shelter homes are made of tin which during the day make the indoors extremely hot. It is a furnace inside. The ceiling fans are at such a height that the circulated air does not reach us. Also, they have provided three coolers in the one where I sleep, but the care taker uses one completely for himself which means about 50 others have to make do with just two,” he said while showing the interiors of the shelter home, which had only about 10 occupants.
For Dinesh Bhatnagar (25), a food delivery man working with an app-based company, his worst nightmare in this heat is getting stuck in traffic. “I shudder each time I see a green signal turning red from a distance. Riding on my two-wheeler, I am always directly exposed to the heat emanating from all the static cars and buses. It gets worse in summer as the heat gets worse,” he said.
“The hot packed food that I need to deliver to the clients only makes things worse as we have to carry the packages on our back.” His work starts with breakfast delivery at 8 am and ends at about 7 pm.
Bhatnagar said their nature of work demands them to be out for 9-11 hours because of which even sun protection hardly yields any result. “I wear arm sleeves and gloves apart from the helmet, but I still end up getting a sunburn. Wearing helmets for 8-10 hours daily in this heat has led to hair loss because of excessive sweating,” he said.
“After all these hurdles, there are some flats which do not have elevators and we have to climb them to deliver at people’s doorstep. Some are gracious to offer us water and cold juices. I don’t get dejected with all my occupational hazards because at the end of the day people get happy and excited about good food being delivered to them,” said Bhatnagar.
A sub-inspector with the traffic police, Junaid Khan (57), has no option but to stand at the busy Kashmere Gate ISBT intersection and man traffic in the scorching heat. Unlike the deliverymen, the street vendors, electricity linemen or even rickshaw pullers, Khan does not have the option to cover his face with a handkerchief or wrap a cloth around his head to beat the heat.
“We are in uniform. If we also start using what others wear then the sanctity of our uniform will be lost,” he said. In the madness of zooming cars and two-wheelers and the heat, a splash of water to soothe his face is the only respite Khan has to keep him going.
With three-years before he retirement, Khan said he’ll prefer to remain indoors for his next innings. “I take small breaks and sit under a flyover where we have kept plastic chairs. We buy ice for ₹10 and fill it in our water bottles to drink and keep us cool. We try to do our job to the best of our ability. It is not easy to be on your toes for 12 hours,” he said.
Be it India Gate, Qutub Minar or any other monument in Delhi, photographers at these tourist hubs have no designated space for them to sit. So roaming around in the sun convincing people to get clicked is the only option for them. The photographers at India Gate said they use water-soaked towels and handkerchiefs to avoid heat stroke. Most of them also wear caps to protect them from the sun. According to Saurabh Thakur (21), a photographer who makes a living by clicking photographs of visitors at India Gate, resting means missing out on money. “Consider it as our badluck that this season is such that maximum tourists come during the afternoon when the sun is the harshest. In the morning and evening hours, mostly Delhiiites come who obviously do not want our services. Foreigners and other tourists come during the day. We have to be ready and out in the sun to take their pictures and earn money,” he said.
It’s a Sunday, but 37-year old Amit Yadav has been working since 5 am. Unlike many, Yadav does not even have the liberty to tweak his work schedule to suit the weather. At 2 pm, his dilapidated wooden handcart is piled five feet high with sacks of spices and he is pulling on it with all his might. “I will take this through Yamuna bazaar and will unload it to the other side of the Loha Pul. I will get ₹10 for this carrying these goods,” he said.
How does he continue to work without a break in this sun? He says with a smile, “Break lete hain na. Hanuman mandir ke saamne piyau hain. Wahan paani peeta hoon aur muh dho leta hoon. Ho gaya break. Garmi sardi toh ata jata rahega. (I do take a break by drinking water from the free taps at the nearby Hanuman temple. That is a break for me. Summers and winters will come and go)."
While ,we decided to return after the interviews, Yadav was loading his handcart, this time with note pads, for yet another contractor - making it his third order for the day.
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