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Lucknow: Knights of the night brave hardship

Undefeated--They maybe ordinary people in the eyes of the world, but their ability to endure the harshness of winter makes them heroes in the stillness of the night

lucknow Updated: Jan 15, 2018 15:28 IST
Pankaj Jaiswal
Pankaj Jaiswal
Hindustan Times, Lucknow
Winters,Cold,Destitutes
Security personnel sit around a bonfire near KGMU crossing in Lucknow.(Subhankar Chakraborty/HT Photo)

Night watchmen can’t rest, come rain or cold. He gets his bread and butter by maintaining a vigil on the surroundings while people sleep. Indeed, Mohammad Yunus’s life gives a peep into how night watchmen do their job. With the night getting foggier and colder, only two persons were spotted around 1.30am at a prominent lane in Aminabad. The street, otherwise chock-a-block with buyers and sellers and their cacophony all day, was absolutely silent at night. Yunus and a destitute companion gave the street the little life that was there. The small bonfire that Yunus had lit could have attracted anyone on that desolate street. Yunus and the other man were huddled around the bonfire. “Every night for 15 years, I have been guarding this stretch of the shopping street. A winter night like today is the worst time. The shopkeepers pay me Rs 15,000 every month. It is this money that brings me here every day. Before me, my father had guarded this street. So, in a way, I inherited this job,” he said.

A watchman and a destitute at Aminabad area of Lucknow. (Subhankar Chakraborty/HT Photo)

“I am from Faizabad and live here alone in a room behind these streets. For six months, I remain away from my wife and three children. Once every six months, I take a month-long break and visit my family in Faizabad. I just rest and do not take up any occupation, full time or part-time.”

Yunus, 35, says: “I come here every night at 8 and leave at 8am. This is a serious job. If any traders reports theft of his wares, I will have to compensate him.”

He only guards the makeshift shops that don’t have shutters or doors. The traders wrap their thela (cart) or squatting area with thick black tarpaulin and go away each day, leaving Yunus in charge.

“It’s a tough, monotonous and lonely job. The winter makes it all the more worse. I don’t have any firewood. I can’t spend money on firewood each night, so I gather some wood from around and light a fire to keep myself warm. Today, I burnt a bamboo pole.”

Asked whether he feels sleepy, he replies: “No.”

“I have become a night bird. My job forces me to stay awake all night. No matter how long I sleep during the day, I always feel tired. Day sleep can’t compensate for the night winks.”

Rickshaw pullers preparing their ‘roti-daal’ dinner at a pavement. (Subhankar Chakraborty/HT Photo)

THINKING OF THEIR KIDS’ FUTURE KEEPS THEM GOING

Temperature: Nearly 7 degrees

Place: Sikanderbagh crossing, Lucknow

Satyapal Pasi and Baraati Maurya – the rickshaw pullers - were preparing their ‘roti-daal’ dinner at a pavement near what is usually a busy crossing during the day.

At night, the crossing was deserted, the pavements full. It had been an average day for the two men, a trend they know would last through the winter when people don’t venture out much. Their daily routine is taxing. They wake up by 3 am every day.

The local public toilet charges them Rs 5 for answering nature’s call. Another Rs 10 if they want a bath. Lunch is usually on the move, a quick bite between waiting for customers. Dinner is when they get to unwind and share their experiences of the day.

That’s what they were doing when we joined them.

Shortly afterwards, a third person, Jagjivan, joins them. All three belong to Hardoi district but Jagjivan is new to the state capital. The two do their best to make him comfortable by making his dinner.

Both Pasi and Maurya hope their children won’t have to follow their profession. Thinking about them takes the pain of their gruelling schedule away. It’s the thought of a bright future for their kids that they go to bed with. Staring at the open sky, they close their eyes and their tired bodies aid a sound sleep.

The pavement from Parivartan Chowk till Daliganj offers night rest to about 250 odd homeless dwellers. (Subhankar Chakraborty/HT Photo)

DIFFERENT STORIES, COMMON FATE

Time 11.50pm

Place: Parivartan Chowk, Lucknow

The pavement from Parivartan Chowk till Daliganj offers night rest to about 250 odd homeless dwellers. Some of them have been spending the night here for years. They are a variety of them: labourers, rickshaw pullers, beggars and a local baba with several plastic garlands around his neck. Their stories are different but virtually everyone, from one end of the pavement to the other, appears resigned to their fate and none we met had any complaint to make.

Labourers offloading truck at Nadan Mahal Road. (Subhankar Chakraborty/HT Photo)

‘WORKING IS THE BEST WAY TO FIGHT COLD’

Time: 2am.

Place: Nadan Mahal Road, Chowk, Lucknow

They found employment when they were asleep. A person looking for labour to offload truckload of material for his shop woke them up and queried if they could help. They readily agreed and for good reason. “We get to make money and then working is the best way to fight cold,” they said. Our night vigil had shown that UP’s homeless might lack a roof above their heads. But what they seem to have in plenty is tremendous capacity is resolve to fight it out. Their days are busy and their nights are usually bright with the stars under the open sky.

First Published: Jan 15, 2018 15:20 IST