Uttar Pradesh: Out in the cold but keeping human warmth alive
The ‘nowhere people’ of Uttar Pradesh appeared to have made peace with the cruel, unrelenting cold.lucknow Updated: Jan 16, 2018 16:38 IST
It’s near midnight. The unmistakable chill in the January air force-stirred an occasional shiver underneath our fluffy jackets.
But, out on the streets, the ‘nowhere people’ of Uttar Pradesh appeared to have made peace with the cruel, unrelenting cold.
We were out on an unusual assignment: To see and ‘feel’ how the homeless, whom the rich usually zoom past in their cosy vehicles with climate control features, were coping with the harsh weather.
We appeared to have been embarrassingly overdressed for the occasion. But the ingenious poor, many of them with voter IDs and Aadhaar cards, had used everything the rich discard to fight the chill.
Wrapped in wornout, soiled and smelly sweaters or gown-like plastic sheets made of discarded sacks, they had layered their pavement beds with paper thin blankets, old newspapers and virtually everything that one expects in a garbage pile.
We were at Parivartan Chowk, a crossing built about two decades ago to signify empowerment of the have-nots. The homeless were asleep or at least appeared to be so, as we stopped by these pavement dwellers.
Then, it started.
The destitute, rickshaw pullers, labourers, a poor woman, a hearing impaired person, a local baba and a road accident survivor – their plight mocking at the tall political claims of social change — started running towards us from virtually everywhere.
They were expecting blankets, maybe money and some edibles as these are the occasions when the moneyed often take ritualistic trips to make small donations to the nowhere people.
To their credit, they stayed put even after their ‘interest’ had died down on knowing that their sprint had largely been wasted on two journalists trying to capture their penury-struck lives for newspaper readers.
Surely, they could put up in night shelters or ‘raen baseras’ where chief minister Yogi Adityanath is busy making midnight reality checks to ensure that the homeless get a comfortable sleep.
They were frank.
“This is a main road where we expect people to stop by with something for us!” said Sabir Ali, 40, who hails from Balrampur and begs to survive.
When he gets desperate, he lines up outside a mosque for food where his Muslim identity helps. But, he admits he has even lined up outside temples for the ‘poori-sabzi’ that people distribute.
Poverty, as we gathered, blurs religious differences. Hunger and cold don’t have caste or religion. The pavement dwellers have a brotherhood. So, a mentally challenged and hearing impaired dishevelled man in a sack wraparound gets his regular supply of ‘khaini’, tobacco powder, from Ali.
About a kilometre away, Satyapal and Baraati, two OBC rickshaw-pullers from Hardoi prepare a ‘roti-daal’ dinner for fellow rickshaw-puller Jagjivan.
Satyapal says he even sends his children to school.
“I often tell them what all I have to go through to ensure they go to school. Our lives are ruined but I want them to become big in life,” he says.
They know life on pavements is not just difficult. It’s dangerous too. On many occasions, drunken drivers have run their vehicles over pavements, killing or maiming many of them.
“I almost got killed when a car ran over me at a pavement in Aminabad. I am now incapacitated,” said Mohd Habib, who came limping towards us.
The pavements have space for all. This includes the poor woman who lowers her eyes while explaining her plight.
Interestingly, hardly anyone had any complaints with the cold. They seem to have acclimatised to their destiny.
By the time, we were through with our nocturnal assignment, we had made an important discovery. These pavements weren’t just made up of brick and mortar. They are made up of emotions too!