“Sir bahut khansi ho rahi hai. Dawai hai? (Sir I have cough. Do you have any medicines?),” asks a distraught Gajendra Kumar, holed up at a night shelter beside Nigam Bodh ghat in north Delhi. The night supervisor, Jitendra, wards him away, citing non-availability of medicines. Clutching on to his slippers, Gajendra heads back to the bed — made up of two mats — and covers himself with two blankets.
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Relatively warm inside, night shelter number 241 saw about 165 people, coughing every now and then, check-in overnight to avoid one of the coldest nights in the capital in the last two years.
Most people seeking refuge are daily wagers, who set out for work in the morning and return after sundown. The shelter serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Jitendra says the place is warm enough for most people, although, some prefer to read books to distract themselves from the drop in temperature. A small library, set up two months back, has attracted a lot of visitors.
Mohammad Usman, who hails from Uttarakhand and works as a daily wage labourer, was reading a book — Khuda ki Basti — by Shaukat Siddiqui. He says the book is based in Karachi in the 1950s, and the story revolves around a poor family exploited by dishonest businessmen. “It is about a family drama and how the family struggles hard to keep things going.”
Of the five shelters on the premises, shelter number 241 is the only place where there is extra space, and people keep coming in at regular intervals.
Devendra, who worked all day in Gurgaon and boarded a Metro around 11pm, hit the bed immediately after reaching the shelter. He says he walked from Vishwavidyalaya station for 5 km to reach this shelter, and is exhausted. “It was very cold so I consumed some liquor to warm myself. I used the remaining money to buy a metro ticket, and by the time I reached there was no money, so I walked,” he says .
At 3 am, when almost everyone was in deep slumber, four night supervisors still made rounds. They lit a small bonfire
One of the supervisors, Pawar Aniket Balaji, was an inmate at this shelter till two months ago. Now, his job is to maintain records of the number of people who stay in the tent. However, he says he would be happier if the government arranges for a television set to keep the people distracted.