Monday, 11 July 2011

Working and sleeping

Among the many things that struck me about Delhi in the first few days of living here is that there are a lot of sleeping people. People sleep everywhere, all the time. You can't walk five minutes without coming across someone slumbering happily, sometimes in what look like quite uncomfortable positions:

The various tombs in Lodi Gardens and elsewhere are especially popular, understandably so given their almost miraculous coolness even during the worst of the afternoon heat.

Given this tendency, you might be forgiven for wondering if the British colonial forces weren't right to dismiss Indians as feckless and lazy. But after a while you notice something else: for every five people sleeping, fifty are working bloody hard. We notice the sleepers because sleeping in public is something we in the West are mostly unaccustomed to (and to which we attach very particular and culturally-specific connotations, mostly negative). But that's only part of the story.

When you really look at what's going on, you realise that this is an incredibly hardworking city. When I walk down the street here I am surrounded by people toiling away to make their daily bread, whether it's carting around precariously-stacked goods or entire families on the back of a bike, standing for hours under a burning sun flogging chilled water to passers-by, or building one of the thousands of constructions going up all across the city. There's one just outside my flat:

There are an awful lot of people involved in putting this building up. I am not entirely sure what they all do. However, I do know what three of the poor buggers did today, which is spend the entire day reducing those piles of rocks you can see outside the house from the enormous mounds they started off as this morning. Their method of doing so is illustrated here:

Scoop, lift, walk, throw, repeat. This, mind you, in 35 degree heat and 80% humidity. Pampered Westerner that I am, I would collapse with a migraine after about half an hour.

However, Indians are not superhuman. All this frenzied activity in this climate is exhausting, and we all need to rest now and then. For many inhabitants of Delhi, though, they spend so much of their time working that sleep becomes something to be grabbed whenever the opportunity presents itself. Hence the prone bodies scattered across the city. Far from being an indicator of laziness, I think it's a sign of just how hard many people have to work to survive here.

I really hope that people doing jobs like this get to share in India's rising prosperity. God knows they've worked for it.

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