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Sweating it out

Who would want to be out in the merciless sun in the month of May? Well, only those whose livelihood depends on it

Walking into our air-conditioned offices or sitting at our comfortable desks, we often complain about the heat we experience en route. What about those who spend their entire day slogging it out in the sun?

The man/woman on the street — stall owner, shopkeeper, sweeper and the like — not only deals with poverty at home, but also debilitating conditions in the not-so-great outdoors. You might think the onus to make things easier lies on them, but the fact of the matter remains that they do not have the necessary means. Patriot talks to few workers toiling in this intense heat to earn a livelihood.

‘Children suffer a lot’

Archana lives in a run-down apartment building close to the Mehrauli-Badarpur Highway, and brings her son to work every Sunday. Archana has a shack on the side of the street where she runs her sewing business. She takes orders for making blouses and stitching and patching up clothes, in order to make a meagre living for her family of four. Her husband is an auto driver and an occasional heavy drinker. And despite his job being the better paying one, is unfortunately not as invested as Archana in supporting the family. Her day starts at 10 in the morning, and she finally wraps up at around 7 or 8 in the evening, depending on the influx of customers that day.

The summer heat, she says, is her worst enemy. “Humein toh garmi ki aadat par gayi hain. Par bachchon ko bohot taqleef hoti hai (We have managed to get used to the heat, but the children suffer a lot),” she says regretfully. She says that her two kids – a 3-year-old and a 7-year-old, have both gotten sick a couple of times, owing to the heat and dehydration. Neither of them goes to school yet, and left to their own devices for so many hours during the day, their health is neglected.

On Sunday, she works as a domestic help for a few hours from morning till afternoon. And for her younger son Govind, it is the day for an outing. While she hops from home to home, each exponentially fancier and better equipped to deal with the heat than Archana’s own home, the trip is something Govind always looks forward to.

Archana confesses that she does very little to combat the heat. Her only weapons against are an umbrella and the occasional bottle of nimbu paani (lemon water) that she manages to whip up in the morning. She reiterates her worry for her children, and the problems arising out of the fluctuating electricity in their neighbourhood. “Sabko pata hain ki bohot dhoop hain, kuch kar nahin sakte (Everybody knows it’s very sunny, there’s nothing that can be done about it),” she concludes.

Fainted at the shop

Bimal owns a tea stall nestled in a corner in one of the sunniest lanes of Westend Marg. He sells lemonade in the morning and tea in the evening. A favourite spot for a cigarette break for people who work in the area, his stall receives a lot of traffic.

“We have a lot of people coming in during specific times in the day, and at that time, both my wife and I have to man the stall,” he explains. “Most of the customers are pouring in from lunchtime to about 4 or 5 in the evening, when it is the sunniest,” he says with a laugh. He recounts that they had tried to set up a fan by the store, but as more customers started coming in, they had to place a second hand couch across the lane and turn the fan that way.

“We take it in turns when the rush isn’t that bad because we live close by,” he says. “But in the sun, the tin roof absorbs all the heat. It is difficult for two people to be in this small space with the heat of the saucepan and the smoke and everything else in those peak hours.”

Two years ago, his wife suffered a heat stroke in the beginning of June. She fainted at the shop from dehydration and required a few days of bed rest. Bimal had to run the store all by himself. Bimal is of course resigned to his circumstances, much like Archana. His need to run his business takes priority over comfort, and unfortunately his health.

Squinting in the sun

Arjun’s location is truly pitiful. Situated right outside the Metro station, far from any sort of shade, he works for really long hours. At 19 years of age, he has been put in-charge of a cigarette stall which he wheels to the street corner every morning. His younger brother goes to school in the morning, an opportunity he never had. He stands right there, squinting in the sun, trying to shield his eyes by ducking behind the bottles of soda on display in front of his cart.

Yahaan se dhoop zyaada aati hain toh bottles aise daal deta hoon (There’s more sunlight streaming in from here so I arrange the bottles this way),” he explains with a grin. His younger brother steps in to help at around 5, at which point he hops home to grab lunch and quickly rest before he’s back at it again by 8. After this, he admits that working isn’t all that difficult, though customers trickle in till the wee hours of the morning.

He never goes to bed before 4 am. Often times, even a third brother is spotted hanging out with his siblings, enjoying the sun more than anybody else. His brothers let him run about carelessly, as they constantly seek shade or skip off for a glass of sugarcane juice.

Main do teen kapde saath mein leke aata hoon. Bohot paseena aata hain (I carry 2-3 pairs of clothes because I sweat a lot in this heat)” He explains that he changes shirts at least three times during his shift, as they are drenched with sweat in a matter of hours.