The Night watchmen: Rok ke chalna!
a person whose job is to guard a building at night.
Living in the capital can sometimes feel like living in different cities altogether. From the leafy lanes of Lutyen’s Delhi to the definition of chaos that is Old Delhi, from the modern wonder that is the metro zipping through the city to the cows that prevent us from zipping on the roads, the extremes are not for the faint hearted observer. But it is these things that define our city, that make it what it is, and ultimately endear it to us.
The following article is, however, not about the obvious. It is about those hidden people who keep this city running, are (largely) uncared for, but always omnipresent, living and working in the very periphery of our vision, but who arguably contribute more to this city with their sweat and efforts than we do, all the time watching out for the city. This article is about knowing them, about knowing the people behind the faces and knowing their stories. This time, the focus is on the people running the vehicles which have contributed to many a traffic jam: the DTC bus.
“Governor ki aulad hai kya?”
The above question was asked by a certain DTC driver to an autowallah in Noida. Imagine. An insult which loses its significance as soon as you cross over a river\sewer into another city. But more or less, the rhetorical question reflected the capital’s exclusive nature, on and off the road.
Which begs the question: Who are the people who run these buses?
“Lalach buri bala!” says the conductor in the 492, with one of the most infectious laughs you will find, on or off a bus. He is doing the last trip to Nehru Place, the last trip in a 12 hour shift, which stretches from 6 in the morning to 6 p.m. Arriving in Delhi in 2010, he had joined DTC with the promise of a permanent government job floating in front of him. 5 years later, like most, he is still on contract.
Originally hailing from UP, he has completed his 10th, 12th, with a B.A and a B.Ed., the last of which happened due to a craze for masteri at that time in UP. After landing up with his elder brother in the capital, he has dabbled at many things; he has been a Ola cab driver, has given the S.S.C, SIDBI and the Railways exam, clearing the first and last of them. So why is he still here? “4 lakh maang rahe the.” He smiles, referring to one of the last two.
A passenger climbs on, and hands over a 100 note.”5 ke dena.” the conductor instead hands over 10 and 20 notes, in lieu of the 100 given. The passenger takes it and walks ahead, ticket forgotten.
What’s the bad thing about being a conductor? “Koi bhi banda aapko suna ke jaa sakta hai, aur aap kuch nai kar sakte.” And the good? “Nothing good. Better than staying home and doing nothing, but when you want to be settled…”
He has been looking at another option lately, driving a passenger van, but there are some license issues. No matter what, he is going to quit the present one soon, he says. And if it doesn’t work out? “Kuch nai hua to gaon chale jayenge!!” He laughs.
On the other end
“I used to ride a tractor back in my village. So in a tractor, if you fix one or two behind, it’s just like driving a bus. So when I joined, I already had experience.” He laughs .”Bike mujhse chalai ni jaati, par bus chala leta hoon!”
This time it’s a 392. The driver hails from Gurgaon, Haryana (“Dilli hi to hai”), and the accent does come out a bit too strongly. He joined service during the Commonwealth Games, and unsurprisingly, is on contract.
Good thing? “When we ride this bus, we can see clearly all the vehicles and the road. If I had a car, I wouldn’t be able to see where a bus or the other cars are going, but that isn’t a problem in this. There’s no gear in this, so it’s comfortable too.” On being further prodded, “Aur log kuch keh sakte hain, but I have no complaints with the bus.”
Update: MANY DTC drivers and conductors are still on contract, inspite of going on strike earlier in 2014, and being assured by the CM himself. Considering the traffic conditions these people have to sit through, which are the same for both a permanent and a contractual employee, why should there be this discrimination?