Alok Gangi was resting at a construction site cordoned off from the main road by metal sheets. He was lying on the sand, amidst dug up earth and cables. It is 8 PM and he is alone in a dark puddle at bright Connaught Place. Surrounding him are circles of shining shop lights and fine dining restaurants. He jumps up when I go to him and asks ‘kya hua madam’. What happened?
Alok is one of the thousands of workers helping India get ready for the Commonwealth games.
Slight, light eyed, and handsome in a childlike way, Alok looks younger than he is. He is 17 years old and studies in 11th STD but he left his village, Bacchi Keda in Uttar Pradesh to work in Delhi for a few months. His right ear is covered with a thick bandage. He says he fell at the construction site. His supervisor, he immediately, adds, took him to the hospital and paid for all the expenses.
’I like Delhi’, he says, gushing about the large park and the bright lights at India Gate- which he says is his favourite part of Delhi.
‘But he longs for home, his mothers’ food and care – and is impatient to attend to his dream of being a ‘master’ – a teacher at the government school. ‘Right now, I have holidays but when I go back I will enrol in eleventh standard and I hope to get a job in the village’.
He makes 200 Rupees a day repairing the pavement at Connaught Place and works eleven hours a day – everyday. The money is a treasure by village standards where jobs are few for the landless.
But according to him, there is no sheen to city life, its largeness, its anonymity frightens him.
‘I live alone in a tent in East Delhi, I don’t have friends here and I don’t make the effort to make them.’
‘I went back to the village for Holi for two days but I had to miss out on my salary but it was worth it, acting silly and drinking bhang with the boys from my mohalla.’, he says , his grey green eyes crinkling as he laughed a loud bright laugh . Suddenly, he seemed more alive, somehow larger than our surroundings.
‘Dilli mein to ladkiyan bahut pyari hain’, (Girls in Delhi are very lovable) he adds, but that he will definitely marry one from his village. I ask him if he has chosen one already but he just blushes and looks away.
I ask him what he thinks about the commonwealth games that he is repairing the road for. He says he doesn’t know anything about them and that no one told him anything about it. I start talking about it but he isn’t really interested. Alok has been on the site since eight in the morning and he left home at six. He puts his aluminium dabba into a small green cloth back and gets up smiling at me, saying it was time to sleep. Tomorrow is another day and many more will pass till he can get on with his life as he imagines it.