Ever since the Government of India announced a total lockdown across India since March 24, 2020, the narrative became only about the migrants’ exodus from the national capital Delhi. Electronic channels and social media carried critical coverage of the Tablighi Jamaat congregation.

Local media, especially newspapers, mostly carried reports of inconveniences and lack of equipment at hospitals. And of course, many news organisations, both print and digital, spoke of clean air and a cleaner Yamuna.

This prompted me to go around Delhi to find out what was happening with the ordinary Delhiites during lockdown. Here is a different take on common Delhiites on a cloudy morning and a bright sunny afternoon around the end of April 2020. 

(All photos are clicked by author)

Jagatpur (North Delhi): (L to R) Even during lockdown, Jainendra Sharma, Jagan Singh and Naresh Kumar have not missed their daily half-kilometre-long morning walks from their village Jagatpur to the Yamuna riverbank. They follow the rules diligently, covering their noses with masks and handkerchiefs and maintaining social distance. 

“I don’t remember any such lockdown earlier. Not even during the World Wars or India’s wars with the neighbours, based on what my elders told me,” says Jagan Singh, 62. 

Jagatpur (North Delhi): Arvind Kumar, security guard at a nearby government primary school, steps out of his farm along the Yamuna floodplains with a huge freshly cut stack of Jau Dana (barley).  Kumar says he continues to till his 2 ½ bigha land for ensuring feed for his buffalo.

Most farmers in his area are facing problems as labourers from Rajasthan, who come annually for harvesting wheat, could not make it due to lockdown. They are managing somehow, helping each other out, and plucking daily vegetables such as kheera, kakadi, seetaphal, lauki, ghiya, and tori. 

Bhalaswa Lake (North Delhi): A young Govind Das is busy fixing poles and stands for people to queue up for free food at a nearby government school. He volunteers with the Shree Shiv Sewak Dilli Mahashakti Group (his ID card around his neck). Das says, “We have been providing free food since March end. But now, more people come from distant places too, so we are getting this arrangement in place.”   

Apart from Delhi government, hundreds of individual and NGO volunteers have been providing food to the needy every day. 

Haiderpur (North-West Delhi): At a petrol pump, a steady stream of vehicles keeps coming for re-fuelling. “There is only about 30% reduction in traffic in our area, lockdown has not had much impact here. Traffic lessens only during the afternoon,” Arvind Singh, an attendant, says. 

Sharda Puri, Ramesh Nagar (West Delhi): In normal times, this marble market is never deserted, not even on Sundays. A soulless patch, almost ghostly, near the main road; there are no employees, no guards on duty in any of the shops. The eerie silence is broken by birds chirping on the neem trees nearby.

Near Hyatt Regency (South Delhi): At a bus stop, two employees of the New Delhi Municipal Council’s Charak Palika Hospital and one from Delhi government’s Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya Hospital wait for a bus ride home.

“It is almost 9 a.m., I have been waiting here since an hour. Government vehicles pick up and drop day shift staff, but there’s no such provision for us who are on night duty. I walked almost 15 kms to reach home on the first day,” a tired Nilu Kumari tells me. The two gentlemen have had similar problems; both walked home on alternate days after waiting long for a ride home. 

South Ex (South Delhi): Probably the last time this main Ring Road in prime South Delhi locality was so empty was in 1984, after the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. It is almost morning peak hour and yet, one can see a vast stretch of the almost empty road. On normal days at this hour, not an inch of the road is visible. The big brand showrooms wear a bleak, abandoned look with barely few security guards in front of each building. 

Sarai Kale Khan ISBT (South East Delhi): A masked policeman pursues a bunch of children who crowd a hand cart carrying drinking water near a rain-basera (night shelter). Armed with a laathi, the policeman rushes to send the youngsters and few adults back into the already crowded shelter but for children, it is more of routine fun as they continue to loiter around.

Nizamuddin Bridge (East Delhi): Purushottam Sharma, a chowkidar, guards the Shikanji outlet on this Yamuna bridge from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. “Traffic nowadays is just 10% on this otherwise 24×7 busy road,” he says. The first few days were odd, he adds, as it was simply difficult to digest the lack of noise and pollution. As for him, commuting is easy; he stays nearby on the floodplains, so it is just a few steps to his workplace. 

Near Commonwealth Games Village (East Delhi): Janaki Debi (left vendor), sends her son to Jehangirpuri in north Delhi, almost 20 kms away, to fetch fresh fish daily, even during the lockdown. She cribs about its high cost and low sale; because of the lockdown, a lot of her customers have stayed away. “I sold almost Rs 20,000 worth fish daily and now it has come down to barely Rs 3,000 a day,” she says, prompting the customer in front of her. “Just before lockdown, we got fish at around Rs 150-160 per kg. Now it is Rs 250.”  

Yamuna floodplains, near Nizamuddin Bridge (East Delhi): Inder Pal has been growing and selling a variety of plants from his makeshift nursery for last 15 years. Surrounded by an array of nicely cultivated shrubs, he is whiling away his time at a tent that makes his shop counter. 

“In summers, I usually get 12-15 customers daily, apart from government or company orders. Now there is so much uncertainty. Don’t know when this lockdown will be lifted.”

Near Akshardham temple (East Delhi): Unlike scores of his counterparts from Uttar Pradesh, Jaidev Chaudhary chose to stay put in Delhi and continue to ply his cycle rickshaw. 

For last 15 years, he has been living in a small rented accommodation with six fellow villagers at Samastipur, a stone’s throw away from the Akshardham temple. None of them have left Delhi. “There are police all around who keep troubling me. But there are needy people too, and I get customers. Of course, things are not easy as there are very few people on the road now, but I will not be leaving Delhi.” 

Indraprastha Extension (East Delhi): Nakul Chajlana (in cap, with a mask), a municipal sanitary worker, finishes his daily round of garbage clearance from the roadside and brings it to the local dhalao (local garbage dumping pit stops, later cleared by municipal trucks). “I am happy nowadays. With people missing from the roads, the garbage load is down to 30%, mostly comprising of dry leaves.”     

Indraprastha Extension (East Delhi): Bimla Devi sits at her laundry kiosk in front of a housing society near Madhu Vihar. “Very few people are going to their offices. So, work has drastically reduced. (But) whatever it is, at least, we have something,” she says while her son taps away on his smart phone and her husband eats (in the picture, behind her son).

Clean air in Delhi with the Air Quality Index (AQI) dropping below 50 for some days was celebrated on social media and made it to news next day. Indeed, clean air is why many of Delhi’s landmarks can be seen from the Yamuna’s banks – the picture is taken almost a month after lockdown began and fortunately, before a few showers that morning. Yamuna’s waters, however, continue to be dark between the ITO barrage and the Nizamuddin bridge.

Nivedita Khandekar

Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in Delhi. She writes about environmental and developmental issues. She loves to capture images of people and landscapes as and when she is out in the field.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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