Some places are too melancholic, and Chelmsford Road must be one the saddest in the entire capital region. Maybe because of its stark disparities. Elegant bungalows bordered by bougainvilleas; and under these bougainvilleas, homeless citizens living on the footpath.
Other places have citizens coping with difficulties, but often within a support system of fellows dealing with similar circumstances. Like this group of daily-wage labourers hailing from Jhansi district, living together on the footpath near Gurugram rail station. Or like the beggars who live with their families under the Oberoi Hotel flyover in Delhi. In Chelmsford, though, each homeless person seems to be totally alone, and barely noticeable at that, as if swallowed by the otherwise super-hectic life of the road. The avenue with pedestrian-friendly paths connects Connaught Place to New Delhi rail station, and is full of barber stalls, bhelpuri eateries, chai shacks, government offices, temples and (extremely beautiful) trees.
Whatever, consider the encounters this afternoon. An elderly man sitting on a heap of fallen leaves, his face blank. Another man, his bare feet covered with flies, his face blank. Yet another man lying on the footpath, his head resting on a suitcase, his face blank. “I left my wife and parents in Punjab… no money now. How can I find work in Dilli?” A rickshaw puller is sleeping on his rickshaw’s back-seat, his face invisible, wrapped in a gamcha, as if he were an Egyptian mummy. The bus shelter is crammed with waiting commuters, but one man in wheel chair is turned away from the road, towards the footpath behind, silent. He lives in this bus shelter, he says.
Meanwhile, the long pavement is littered with currently unattended possessions: a pink teddy bear, a knotted bundle (stuffed inside the hollow of a tree trunk), a brick stove with half-burnt wood, a torn mattress.
In one place along the pave, the side-wall is alive with colourfully painted drawings. One panel shows a white heron standing beside a numerical rendering of the current year, painted in red against a background of green. A man—a real man, not a painted figure—in red sweater and black pants is lying underneath this 2023. His eyes are closed, his face doesn’t look blank. It seems to be at rest, for now.