Delhiwale: Life in stages

ByMayank Austen Soofi, Delhi

Here’s a citizen’s life in three time periods.

Late 2019

Father of two young children, Rajinder was going up in life—at least that’s what he believed. (The photo is from that time). A bank loan enabled him to buy an auto rickshaw for three lakh rupees. The Bihar native had launched his life in the Delhi region a few years back as a beldar, a labourer, and “I used to be covered in dust.” His ambition was to drive a cab, which he had estimates would take him two years. But first he would have to pay back the aforementioned loan in monthly kishte (instalments). Since Rajinder’s initial earnings from the new auto were the same as his earnings as a labourer—12,000 rupees monthly—his wife and he started to save by making drastic cuts to their budget, including a total ban on eating out. They gave up their spacious one-room house in Gurugram’s Raj Nagar (monthly rent: 4,000 rupees) for a smaller one-room house in Pataudi Chowk (2,600 rupees). Challenges lay ahead, but Rajinder hoped of ultimately buying a plot of land in the Millennium City and build his own house.

Second wave, 2021

Rajinder would get very few passengers for his auto. The coronavirus pandemic had put people off the streets. His earnings dwindled; he couldn’t keep up with his loan instalments; his auto was claimed by the lenders. Rajinder again became a labourer.

Early 2023

Rajinder is back in the “driving line.” He purchased a new auto a year ago for 3.5 lakh rupees. He gave 50,000 rupees upfront; the rest is being paid back in monthly kishte. He however realised soon after getting the auto that “more and more people have started using app-based taxis, and I wasn’t getting as many customers as I did before the pandemic.” Earnings from the new auto were disappointing so “I rented it out to another driver, and took a job.” Rajinder now drives a school van for a monthly pay of 10,000 rupees, exactly the sum of his monthly kisht. “But now I also get a daily commission from the man who drives my auto—300 rupees.” About four months back, his wife, Vinti, started to work as a part-time housekeeper in a “kothi.” That brings home an additional dough of 3,000 rupees. “I’m 40, the boys are going to school, and we will rise again.”