It’s noon. While some escape into the sanitised realms of air-conditioned lobbies, offices and cars, others have no choice but to brave the fury of the orb in the sky.
A team of five is busy with the renovation of the roundabout at the Bengali Market. Two men rhythmically dig up the pavement, while three others huddle outside an ATM. “The cool breeze from the ATM gives us some relief, so we take turns. But the guard won’t let us keep the door open,” Ravi Kumar, of the workers says, as he dazedly watch his companions work.
With the sun at its furious best, flyovers, the most visible sign of Delhi’s development, becomes a leveller. While they shorten the commute for those shielded from the heat behind the rolled-up windows of their vehicles, it also a breathing space with nowhere to go to escape the sweltering heat.
Forty-two-year-old Vijay huddle under the Nizamuddin flyover with his wife and four-year-old son. Above and around, cars zip past across the burning asphalt.
“I have been doing odd jobs for the past one year. I fell ill last week and, since then, I have had to stay at home,” he says pointing to the motley array of belongings strewn about on the pavement. This is Vijay’s home. No ACs or fans. Even water is scarce.
Like countless others who move to Delhi in search of a better life, Vijay too had come here with his dreams all bundled up. But Delhi is an unforgiving city for him – there is little work and even less shelter.
The mercury’s progress up and down the thermometer affects the city’s homeless the worst. If the winter leaves them shivering under thin blankets, the summer has them scurrying around in search of shade, however small.
Some congregate under leafy boughs in Delhi’s increasingly rare green spaces, while others head to Metro stations. “My work begins at 6 pm. But I usually come here by 4 pm, because the buses are less crowded. Until then, I lie down at Lodhi Garden,” Ahmad, a parking attendant at Khan Market, says.
As the hours pass by, the sun continues its westward journey. The stagnant air gives way to gusts of blistering wind. Ravi (23), who sells ice cream at India Gate, blinks away the sweat that persistently flows into his eyes. “Once in a while I help myself to an ice lolly. But I pay for it. Business is good in summer, but not that good,” he says with a smile.
Others too are cashing in on the temperature’s record ascent. Opportunity, they learn, is around the corner for those who can adapt.
“Usually, I sell chole kulche. Now, I sell lassi and nimbu paani. Sales have increased and its cheaper,” says Kallu, who has a small shop outside the Anand Vihar ISBT.
“Garmi se bachna zaroori hai, usually this is enough,” he said while pointing to the flimsy, canvas roof above him.
In the midst of this one-sided battle to stay cool, many can be seen furtively glancing at the sky. But it holds no promise of rain. The clouds are missing from its searing blue expanse.
People flock to the many water coolers, put up by the corporation around the capital. The cold water offers a brief relief. But for some, even that is a luxury.
After losing both his legs in an accident as a child, Deepu started begging in Delhi. Now aged, he no longer begs in summer, preferring to sit in a shade and sip water.
“It’s too hot to beg. The roads get very hot and it’s difficult for me to move,” he says. A makeshift platform on wheels lies unused next to him.
An old man sits alone under a tree. The world, illuminated dazzlingly by the sun, rushes past the him. He no longer cares, it seems.