July 25, 2012

Tiger Tourism In Corbett Tiger Reserve, Uttarakhand

Tiger Sighting in Dhikala, Corbett Tiger Reserve (C.T.R.)

Jim Corbett, a legendary hunter of man-eating tigers before turning conservationist and bestselling author, was born today, 137 years ago.

And today, newspapers reported front page, and analysed in inside pages, the order the Supreme Court passed yesterday imposing a complete ban on tourism activities in the core areas of India’s Tiger Reserves. The order was in response to Ajay Dubey’s petition seeking a court ruling directing States to notify buffer and peripheral areas in Tiger Reserves under the Wildlife (Protection) Act to prevent tourism in the core areas.

I cannot say for sure what Jim Corbett would’ve made of the Supreme Court ruling on the eve of his birth anniversary but I’ve little doubt that he would applauded the Bench of Justices Swatanter Kumar and Ibrahim Kalifullah for passing the judgement if he believed it would give tigers the much needed space from humans increasingly breathing down its neck.

Personally I feel it’s the perfect birthday gift to Jim Corbett even if the timing of the Supreme Court order was a coincidence, for it was in the Corbett Tiger Reserve (C.T.R) on a recent visit that I truly understood firsthand the pressure Tiger Tourism is subjecting its most famous and celebrated mascot to.


In the time it took Mahesh to drive us from the Dhangarhi Gate to Dhikala along the northern boundary of the Corbett National Park, a distance of over 18 kms., much of it rambling along the Ramganga river that flows through the Patli Dun valley while flanked by dense forests of Sal, Khair, and Shisum, Mahesh had little doubt in his mind that we, Philip and I, were not his typical ‘Tiger Tourists’.

“Because both of you are equally interested in all wildlife forms and not just in tigers, you will be blessed with its sighting more than the other tourists,” he announced.

“I’m sure you’ll see tigers because you’re not chasing it,” he said more than once before continuing, “Most of them (visitors to Corbett National Park) are least interested in anything but tigers. They care for little else. It’s always Tiger, Tiger, Tiger. Tiger dhikao. Tiger dhikao. Tiger kahan hai?

Mahesh had made little attempt to hide his contempt for his ‘typical tiger tourists’. It was a strange situation for, as a driver working for a safari tour operator based out of Ramnagar, he earned his living from conducting tiger safaris for tourists, most of who apparently cared for little else other than tiger sightings while pressing safari drivers like him into chasing the tiger through jungle trails.

Invariably, a failure to see a tiger meant the visit translated into a trip gone down the drain for the ‘Tiger Tourist’, with the blame for not 'showing' them a tiger laid at the feet of the driver.   

Mahesh was no doubt helped with his perception of the both of us by the length of time it had taken us to cover the distance of over 18 kms., easily double of the time the rest of the visitors took that summer day on their way to Dhikala for a night halt at the Forest Rest Houses.

We had meandered along, pausing each time Philip saw a bird or heard a movement in the undergrowth or when I happened upon flowers, trees, or the many Sots, seasonal streams emptying into the Ramganga, along the way. It mattered little that the Sots had run dry, exposing boulders that glinted in the Sun while contrasting starkly with the blue skies overhead. It was a sight to behold.

We were no doubt helped in our plodding along at snail’s pace by the presence of a Forest Guide whom we had met at the Dhangari Gate when I entered the small office to present our permit issued for our stay at Dhikala, a possession worth its weight in gold and probably sought as fiercely as the holy grail.

After checking if our permit was in order, the official asked me if we could accommodate a Forest Guide and his colleague, a cook at the canteen the Govt. ran at its Dhikala camp and where we would dine later that night, on our ride to Dhikala.

“They need to report for duty at Dhikala,” he said. The duo had been waiting at the entrance gate for a ride. We could not refuse though for a moment I squirmed at the idea of a crowded jeep not affording the views we hoped to take in on our roll through the jungle. Earlier we had passed up an opportunity to join up with a group just so we could pace our own journey through the jungle, unencumbered by another's priorities and interests.

Corbett National Park is not a destination those from the west of India visit everyday, nor every year. This was my first visit to the Corbett Tiger Reserve. Philip had visited once before, 12 years ago.  

Skies threatened overhead. A light drizzle was beginning to turn into a steady downpour by the time the duo joined us. Mahesh got off to draw the tarpaulin cover back, affording us some protection from the rain. But it blocked our view. The five of us now stuck to our respective corners as we bumped along. 

Mahesh had a difficult time rolling up the tarpaulin top the moment rains receded only to draw it back once the rains returned. Eventually the rains went away and to everyone's relief we had the sky for a roof. I thrilled in the jungle air that brought fragrances floating by.

Along the way, the more the guide answered questions we put to him, the more we fell behind on the afternoon tiger safari scheduled from the Dhikala base camp.

While the Dhangarhi gate, the entry to Dhikala zone, is open to permit holders through the day, certain core areas in each of Corbett National Park’s five Zones (Dhikala, Bijrani, Jhirna, and Northern Zone) officially open at 3:00 pm in the afternoon and typically close between 6:00 and 7:00 pm in the evening. In the morning, they open at 5:45 am and close at 11:00 am. (However visitor timings can vary at each of the zones.)

The rest of the permit holders had sped past us to make the 3:00 pm opening count, and were probably on their way about Dhikala after unloading their luggage in their rooms while we, more Philip than I, debated the finer points of Greyheaded Woodpeckers and Starlings among other avian species along the way, including the Grey-headed Fish Eagle we sought in the skies from the spotting platform constructed at High Bank on the southern bank of the Ramganga shortly after we had passed Jamun Sot.

As we headed back to the jeep from the spotting platform, Mahesh said again, “You’ll surely see tigers now.” He was convinced. And I hoped he was right.

It was as if each bird or sound we stopped to explore was a further vindication in his eyes of our status as "true" wildlife enthusiasts, and in his mind it was only fair that the tiger blesses us with its august presence. I could see he was willing it to happen and would likely take it personally were the tiger to give us a slip under his watch. This, after Philip had let slip that while we'd absolutely love to make a tiger sighting, we wouldn't have returned empty handed from the jungle if we didn't get lucky with the striped cat. There's so much else to see in the Corbett National Park.   

Faced with an abundance of birdlife, the tiger, more so in Philip’s case than mine, had gradually receded to the periphery of our anticipation since the moment we had driven through the Dhangari gate at half past two in the afternoon, eventually reaching the Dhikala Tourist Complex around 5:00 pm. We were the last to report in.

But it was not until the next morning that I truly understood the sentiment behind Mahesh’s perception of Tiger Tourism and ‘Tiger Tourists’, and the intensity behind his repeating it.

It took a tiger sighting to reveal the circus that bedded down. A circus to beat all other.

The tiger sighting itself was a matter of chance just as most tiger sightings are.

Starting early at three quarters past five in the morning, after exploring much of the waking hour along several jungle trails, we had eventually driven through Dhikala Chaur, a stirring expanse of man-made grassland in the backdrop of the ethereal Kanda ridge to the north.

Deer abounded every which way we turned our head. In the gathering Sun the last of the elephants were retreating to the shade of trees ringing the open grassland to the south as we turned back from the waters of the Ramganga backed up from the Kalagarh dam downstream.

After reluctantly tearing away from the trail that had revealed successive herds of elephants the evening before, Mahesh turned off the ignition as we neared our forest campsite on our way past it before leaping off the open-top Maruti jeep and sprinting in the direction of the camp entrance to relieve his upset stomach.

If it wasn’t for his upset stomach we would’ve missed seeing the tiger as it made its way inland from the Ramganga river, padding through shoulder high grass in the measured, deliberate way that cats walk.

Watching the tiger approach I hoped it would not deviate for, if it kept its line I was certain that it would, in less than five minutes, appear on the motor trail less than 100 metres ahead of where Mahesh had decided he could no longer hold his stomach back. Fortunately, in his urgency he had forgotten to take the key along.

In the event of the tiger charging, unlikely as it was, it helps to have a key in the ignition and someone to steer it quickly away.

In Mahesh’s absence, Pappu, the guide who was accompanying us, gunned the engine to life and prepared to fly down the track, oblivious to Philip roaring over the revving engine, “What’re you doing, what’re you doing, don’t go close, don’t.” Philip was beyond angry at the thought that in racing to meet the tiger, the overenthusiastic guide would scare it away. Worse still he might interfere with the tiger’s morning duties whatever they might be. We would soon find out.

Just then I saw Mahesh returning through an opening in the solar fencing ringing the campsite. He wasn’t done with adjusting his pants and was drawing the zip up when I frantically motioned him to hurry up just as Pappu set the jeep in motion.

Mahesh instinctively knew what was up. He broke into a sprint still clutching his pants and just when I thought he would not make it to the jeep, for Pappu had picked up speed, Mahesh managed to fling himself halfway in, his legs trailing behind before we dragged him in, all this to the sound of Philip increasingly frustrated with Pappu for attempting to speed up to meet the tiger.

“Don’t. Don’t. What’re you doing, man,” Philip entreated before bellowing harshly, “Don’t go close.” Meanwhile, Pappu, his instincts honed over time by Tiger Tourists goading him to get ever closer to a tiger, struggled to act against the grain, eventually brought the jeep to a halt, likely alarmed by Philip's vehemence that we get no closer to the tiger than we already had. The distance would be bridged by binoculars. I had lost my field glasses by then though I wouldn't learn of it until it was time to leave Dhikala later that morning, thinking I had left it behind at our quarters.

“We could’ve gotten a little more closer,” Pappu said, more perplexed at being made to keep distance from the tiger than unhappy.

Just then the tiger appeared from the grass and momentarily hit the trail ahead of us before crossing to the other side, slipping into more shoulder high grass. It was on a hunt. Of that I was sure.

There was no one on the trail besides another jeep load who were making for the trail from the grassland. They had seen the tiger make the diagonal and were speeding to where we had come to a stop. 

Our guide was quickly on his phone, dialling a fellow guide with directions to our location. 

"We just spotted the tiger near the tree in which a leopard was seen with its prey recently while a tiger waited under the tree for the leopard and its kill. Remember the spot? Come soon," Pappu said in his cell phone. 

In all probability he was returning a favour for, tiger safaris count on tiger sightings to please their clients, each safari driver quickly notifying the others of a tiger sighting.

I could see that Mahesh was not happy with Pappu giving away our location. I soon saw why.

Within minutes, safari jeeps with ‘Tiger Tourists’ were converging on us from all directions, clouds of dust trailing in their wake as they sped up the trail. All it takes is one phone call to one tiger safari driver for all safari drivers to learn of the sighting. 

On any given day, each zone in the Corbett National Park sees upward of 25 jeep safaris in each of the two sessions - morning and afternoon. 

The word about 'Ol Stripey soon got around as forest guides worked their cell phones informing their colleagues, on duty in other jeeps ferrying tourists around the forest reserve, and no sooner I turned my head after trailing the tiger in the grass to my left, a succession of jeeps had roared to a stop behind our own.

"They should disable mobile connectivity in tiger reserves," Mahesh volunteered as the safari circus came to town.

"Before, it used to be good, no mobile connectivity in this area," Mahesh continued. "There was no way to communicate a tiger sighting unless you crossed someone on your way after a sighting. Those who made the tiger sighting could enjoy the experience in peace. There was no jockeying for positions like this," he said, pointing to the safari jeeps arrayed in every which direction, attempting to get as close as was humanly possible without straying off the trail, a strict no-no. But it didn't stop one impatient safari driver from leaving the trail to make a U-turn. He was set upon by the others - "You'll create trouble for the rest of us."

In front of me, an equally long line of jeeps that had come roaring down the path in clouds of dust crowded the jungle trail and effectively cut off the tiger's path in the event it were necessary to use the trail as it stalked its prey, deer, in shoulder high grass.

Crouching, it went still in the grass, gazing steadily ahead in the direction of a break along a treeline to the south where several deer stood alert. If not for the fact we had sighted the tiger and were trailing it through binoculars, it could just as easily have been lost in the grass to passing tourists. 

Soon elephant safaris, the mahouts too carry mobile phones, crashed through the jungle, literally on the back of the tiger while 'Tiger Tourists' atop swayed in their mounts. I counted two elephants hot on the trail of the tiger. I was told more elephants would join them. And sure enough they did.

"Those mahouts will not give up, they'll chase the tiger through the jungle now," Mahesh commented. The mahouts would no doubt be egged on by the 'Tiger Tourists' atop their elephants. 

Watching the scene unfold an empty feeling settled about me. I had read of similar experiences but no reading will ever communicate the gravity of Tiger Tourism to quite the same extent and intensity as experiencing it firsthand will.

Knowing something as a fact is very different from knowing it from experience.

While the racket did not seem to bother the tiger much, at least on the face of it though I cannot be certain, the commotion however made the prey it was stalking, extremely fidgety. The elephants, and the jeeps had cut off its access. The lot of us had managed to blow the tiger's cover and effectively ruined its hunt. I've no doubt about it. None at all.

However, the tourists, including Philip and I, did not miss their breakfast. It was waiting for us as we trooped back to the Forest Rest House for a wash before filing into the canteen for a steaming menu of South Indian and North Indian choices served with generous toppings of excited chatter of the morning's tiger sighting.

July 18, 2012

Of New Delhi, Public Garden, Drinking Water, And Gapodi Aunty

Out on the road, after a time, it’s not so much your own experiences that shape your journeys, as those of others you meet. Every once in a while I intend to take a backseat and let fellow travellers, those I know personally and those I don’t, paint their encounters here.

If you were to meet Delhites returning to New Delhi after a sojourn in Mumbai, like I do on the occasions I board the Rajdhani or August Kranti from Mumbai Central for New Delhi, it’s inevitable that you’ll be treated to more than a robust comparison between the two Metros, with New Delhi ‘trumping’ Bombay in all aspects, real and imagined.

It’s unlikely they’ll address you directly for that would be rude even for a ‘normal’ Delhite of the mooh phat variety, instead they’ll make certain their conversation is not lost on you, turning to throw a sideways glance every now and then to ascertain that you are indeed tuned in to their litany of woes about your city. And god forbid if they were to detect you squirming; rest assured they’ll raise the intensity by a notch. Given a chance they’d rub oil into a stone. If you can place Meetii Churi in a comparable context, you’ll probably understand what I’m driving at.

But I must admit that I quite relish the thread they play out. If anything it shortens the journey even if not the distance.

High up in their list, and mind you the list is long, as long as the faces Delhites will pull to get their point across, is the grouse that Mumbai lacks public parks. I’m more than prepared to concede this point. While Mumbai does boast of public parks or gardens as many would refer them, it lacks them in the numbers Delhi totes up.

But that’s not the point I’m trying to make. Even if Mumbai were to match New Delhi in the size and number of public parks, I’ve no reason to believe it can ever match New Delhi for the sheer colour of characters one is likely to encounter in the capital city’s green spaces, characters colourful enough to find a place in the park’s flower beds, blooming through lean seasons.

And it were two such characters that Sweetie encountered in the course of burning calories in a small neighbourhood park in South Delhi that makes walking in Delhi’s green spaces simultaneously a chore and a delight even if only briefly – one was invisible in the sense his presence was revealed by his association with the garden, and the other, a not inconsiderable Punjabi aunty whose witty repartees lightened Sweetie’s strides weary from pounding the walking paths.

While I haven’t seen the neighbourhood park myself, the narration (in italics) and the pictures Sweetie mailed me left me with little doubt that this small patch of green is a labour of love sustained over the years.

In poring over the pictures, it soon became evident that while the patch of land probably belonged to the Government, there was little else to indicate it had suffered silently in the shade of indifference, and lacking in inspiration, as is wont to be with public amenities managed by Government agencies. This was probably the work of an individual driven to express himself in the service of his community.

While turning over public parks to neighbourhood societies is not new, it’s nevertheless a revelation to step into a public park and be greeted by an Albert Einstein quote on a water cooler set up for the public:

Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.

Translated into Hindi so his thought reaches park visitors of all stations in life, the quote sounded even better,

Kewal Vah Jeevan Kaam Ka Hai, Jisey Doosroh Ke Liye
 Jiya Jaey.

Whoever put up the quote was either inspired by it and volunteered their service to others with the park, or discovered it after being converted to the cause of service to the people. I do not know which of the two was true with Mr. N. P. Thareja when he set up a charitable trust – Human Care Charitable Trust – with like minded people and set out to transform the public park into one the community would pivot around.

I was told that Mr. Thareja, a Punjabi, retired as Assistant General Manager with State Bank Of India, is also a practitioner of Palmistry and Astrology, both practices associated more with Brahmins than with enterprising Punjabis who one would expect to say: Believe in the ability of your hands than in the lines that mark them, before setting out to make time count its weight in the money it earns them. Nevertheless there must be something powerfully redeeming in a vocation that seeks to read destinies etched in palms to orient one in the direction of service to fellow humans. And it might not be difficult to fathom why. But that’s a story I’ll leave for another time.

In Delhi, and probably in much of India, more so in the north of India, do-gooders come in various forms. There’re those who’ll anoint themselves your subhchintak and offer you their opinion, nee advice, on everything ranging from how to deal with neighbours’ pesky dogs to neighbours who’re dogs, from how to put your daughter-in-law’s mother in her place to why your son-in-law needs to wear better shirts to stop looking like a unwashed rag.

Then there’re those subhchintaks, the kind Delhi must necessarily pride in for, these do-gooders will put their money (and sometimes muscle) to use in playing the good Samaritan to their neighbourhood, either as the President of the Resident Welfare Society, a post that’s rarely earned on a platter, or like the elderly Mr. Thareja, who formed a trust and took over the maintenance of the garden in this story, turning it into a place of recreation and inspiration, starting with Albert Einstein’s quote prominently displayed over a water dispenser to quench Delhi’s thirst.

All manner of people, mostly the poor and those who cannot afford cold drinking water, step into the garden and drink from the water dispenser. Many fill their water bottles with chilled water and carry them back to their homes. It’s a luxury that’s difficult to come by in Delhi’s summers when the Sun burns hot and taps run dry.

They (those who run the park – Human Care Charitable Trust founded by N.P. Thareja) do not compromise on the quality of water just because most of those who use it are the poor. The water is treated by two Aquaguard water purifiers, and together with the water cooler cost the Trust two lakhs to set up.

This year, Delhi has been short of water in the summer. Like Ramlila, water shortage visits New Delhi each year, on the dot. And each year, Delhites’ nightmares are relived as they scramble for motorised water tankers. It’s a time the enterprising water carriers will push hand driven water carts into neighbourhood colonies selling water at a rupee per litre, the business lasting so long as the tap runs dry.

Everyone is affected by the water shortage, some struggle to meet their own needs for water while some struggle to meet others’ needs. And along Delhi’s streets it’s not uncommon to find rows of earthen water pots and tumblers arranged by charitable souls for passers-by to drink from.   

Water. The most elemental of the elements. A force of reason, a force for reason.

In the moment one drinks water, quietude settles about one, lending the moment open for contemplation and aimless gazing as one gulps down the soothing liquid. It’s a moment no one hurries with if they can help it. It’s a moment receptive to philosophy, to matters beyond the immediate.

It’s likely that N.P. Thareja sensed it to be the moment to reinforce the spiritual element lurking, even if in varying degrees, within each human being for, adjoining Albert Einstein’s quote, two Indian sayings in Devanagari script graced the second of the four sides of the towering water cooler.

Dard Dil Ke Wastey Paida Kiya Insaan Ko
Warna Ta-aat Ke Liye Kuch Kum Na Thay Karu Bayan.


Maang Le Jo Mangna Ho, Parwardigar Se Akbar
Yeh Waha Dhar Hai Jahan Jhukney Se Aabru Nahi Jati.


Sweetie added: Mostly elderly Punjabi women come to the park to exercise, atleast that’s the intention but I suspect they’re here more for the company of others their age. No sooner they step into the park in trim walking shoes they look out for familiar faces, and before they break a hint of sweat on their foreheads, the open space fronting Chintan Sthal turns into an impromptu adda with the women settled in plastic chairs arranged in a circle, exchanging news and gossip while sharing prasad from their morning visits to Hindu Temples and Sikh Gurudwaras as appropriate to their beliefs.

Motee, motee auntiyan chahey walk karey ya na karey par joothey unkey sab jadataar Adidas ya Reebok ya Nike se kam nahi hothey. Tumharey Bambai ke tarah nahi, jahan auratein Paragon hawai chappal pahankey walk kartee hai.

I dodge the barb and duck but smile away.

Robust laughter accompanying spirited banter among the women gathered by the Chintan Sthal belies the profound nature of its name, Chintan Sthal – a place for quiet contemplation. On the face of it there’s nothing quiet, and little contemplation if any. However it makes up with much camaraderie.

The Chintan Sthal is used by the same Trust that runs the garden to provide basic medical care free of cost to the needy, a service also availed by elderly people from the neighbourhood who step into the park with aches and pains common to their age. I’m told a Physiotherapist is available two days a week to treat just these pains.

While companionship beckons, the jamun tree in the park, more so in the Delhi summer when it fruits and colours the park’s walking path, indigo, is too tempting a sight for walkers to turn their backs on. Regular walkers slow down as they approach the jamun tree and pick up stray jamuns lying on the ground while others walk into the park for the fruit.

Aside from regular walkers, it’s common to see among others, security guards, the gardener, and stray passers-by who include, maids, drivers and cleaners servicing nearby residential neighbourhoods, take a detour through the park for the jamuns in the summer.   

They carry back handfuls of jamuns, much of which to savour on their way back home or elsewhere.

It’s easy to spot the jamun tree. Just watch out for people hunched over, scouring the ground. They’re looking for jamuns. It was here Sweetie met the woman who left her smiling. 

The elderly aunty I met in the park was carrying a walking stick to support her after undergoing a knee surgery. She was a sprightly woman with twinkling eyes that said from a distance: Gapodi aunty – embrace or steer clear of depending upon how much time you’ve on your hands.

Bending over to pick jamuns was out of question, but it wasn’t enough to deter her from wanting to sample them.

She stopped a passer-by and requested him pick jamuns shed by the tree. The man acquiesced and began to pick the jamuns off the ground.

I paused to click pictures of the unfolding scene, and the kindly man spread his palm filled with jamuns he had picked up for the elderly woman so I could photograph them.

As I was about to continue past them, the woman, not content with the jamuns handed over to her which she washed with water from a small plastic bottle she said she carries for this very purpose, stopped me with a twinkle in her eye and said:        

“Meri bhi jamun khatey huey photo khich ley.”

I was more than happy to make her day.

After I photographed her, she was curious to see the picture. On seeing her picture, a smile spread on her face and she couldn’t resist quipping:

“Arrey beta, kya lal surak lag rahee hun,
Mere aagey toh solaah saal ki ladki bhi fail hai.
Kal Agarwalji ke yahan raat ke khaney pe gayi thi,
Toh merey hee photo sab khich rahey thay.”

I couldn’t help smiling through the remainder of my walk.

The next day I kept a lookout for the aunty each time I passed the jamun tree, only passing her briefly enough to catch her shouting out advice to another woman:

“Arrey, uski bahu ko bol ki apni jethaani se yeh jagda salatwaley.”

I couldn’t stop chuckling on my way out.

It helps to have unbending knees, for I believe it can sometimes make for an unbending spirit, for life, and maybe beyond.

While trees and plants constitute a garden, it takes spirited souls to breathe life into them.

And I can sense the unsaid coming fast at me: “It’s here that Delhi scores over Mumbai.”



Mooh Phat: Blunt-speak, often designed to pinch the other person by way of a taunt.
Meetii Churi: Term used to denote a person who’ll sweet talk you while hiding a dagger.
Subhchintak: Do-gooder, someone who purports to have your best interests at heart.
Gapodi: Talkative.
Meri bhi jamun khatey huey photo khich ley: Photograph me eating jamuns too.
Arrey, uski bahu ko bol ki apni jethaani se yeh jagda salatwaley: Hey, tell her daughter-in-law to resolve her conflict with her elder sister-in-law. 

Arrey beta, kya lal surak lag rahee hun,
Mere aagey toh solaa saal ki ladki bhi fail hai.
Kal Agarwalji ke yahan raat ke khaney pe gayi thi,
Toh merey hee photo sab khich rahey thay.

Oh girl, how rosy my cheeks are,
Even a sixteen year old girl will fade in comparison.
Yesterday, I was at Agarwalji’s place for dinner,
And everyone was photographing only me.

(Implying she was the centre of attraction there for her looks.)


July 01, 2012

Bonding Roadside In Kolkata

Kolkata’s Madan Street is a busy street, located at an angle from Chittaranjan Avenue and sheltered by old buildings. On this street I saw more shops dealing in Transistor Radios, repairs and sale of new and old radios, than all the radio shops put together in my time on the streets elsewhere. I did not hear any radio playing though, unless I lost it in the sound of the bustling street.

In the shade of Subid Ali Mansion, shops, roadside hawkers, rickshaw pullers, and daily wage labourers throng the street in a maelstrom of activity, in time developing an easy familiarity from seeing one another day after day, year after year.

While contesting common space for survival on the street is a reality, occasionally spilling over into scarcely disguised hostility, it’s not uncommon for bonds to develop among those working the same street in similar or different capacities. Bonds that make them look out for each other.

Through the working day, in brief respites from hauling loads or other exertions, these bonds are renewed in brief encounters roadside where a shared beedi or jovial banter reinforces their sense of belonging to what is in essence an extended family, the ties occasioned for no better reason than that they live and work together on the same street.