‘For you the cold may be just numbers, we feel it in our bones’
On the day the city was the coldest in 44 years, it was work as usual for people who are on duty all night Metro site workers, auto drivers, petrol pump attendants.
Close to midnight, a black sedan pulls up to a colony gate in South Delhi's Jorbagh area. The car's windows are not tinted, but the people in the car can barely be seen from the outside. With the heater on inside, the glass is foggy.
Satpal Singh and Sahab Yadav get up from their station just inside the gate, note down the digits on the numberplate, and let the vehicle pass. It's cold and dark. And while the black sedan is heading home on the night when the city recorded its coldest day in 44 years, the shift of the two guards has just about begun.
Ask them how they will survive the night, there is a one-word answer, "Fire."
"I've been employed as a guard at Jorbagh for 18 years now. For all of those years, I have always been on night duty, from 10 at night to 6 in the morning. Through the sun or the rain, we are always here. This colony has Amitabh Bachchan's daughter living here, among other industrialists, so this is a priority area for the company that employs us. Our duty is to check vehicles that enter and leave. To beat the cold, all we have is a few cups of tea, the clothes on our backs, and fire," said Sahab Yadav, originally from Jharkhand.
There are others however, similarly earning their living on cold nights like these, who aren't even privy to that luxury.
Just outside the INA Metro station, around 1 am, Satrapal Singh stops his autorickshaw and allows himself a beedi. "This is the only warmth I will get all night, sahib. I heard on the news that it is the coldest night in Delhi in years, but what can I do. I have this auto on contract. And the maalik only lets me drive it from 7 pm to 7 am. I have three children back home in Bihar, for whom I have to send money every month. The auto has no curtains or glass at the back, but I can't repair that because I don't own the auto. It gets cold, but it's a small price to pay to feed my children. In winter, I still have to work 12 hours because there are fewer customers. Some even refuse to hire my auto because it does not have curtains. So, I smoke my beedi to keep warm and keep driving around looking for passengers," he said.
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