Habib Bhai and his cart
While working as a freelance journalist in the ‘90s, I met Habib bhai, a middle-aged man who lived on the pavement outside Delhi’s LNJP Hospital. His job was to collect unclaimed dead bodies from the streets and hand them over to the Delhi Police and in return he would get 20 rupees and some cloth for each body. I followed him around to understand his unique occupation and found that more homeless people were dying in winters than in other seasons.
This experience was life changing for me. I realised that perhaps winter was the biggest disaster, killing thousands each year, with the biggest tragedy being people dying not just from the cold, but from the lack of warm clothing.
Habib Bhai’s daughter Kaneez Bano sitting in his cart.
The small girl is sitting inside her father’s cart which is used to transport unclaimed dead bodies to the Delhi Police. The picture brings to focus three rather contradictory subjects, two are the paradoxical writings on both sides of the cart, on one side it reads ‘laawaris footpath pe padi laash’ whilst the other reads ‘Delhi police ki gaadi’ and lastly is the 5 year old girl sitting on the cart
A random conversation struck with the 5 year old brought me a very shocking statement, “Jab mujhe thand lagti hai mai laash ko pakad kar so jati hun” (When it gets too cold, I go to sleep hugging dead bodies) she had said with a bland expression, ”mujhe thand bhi nhi lagti aur laash karwat bhi nahi badalti” (It keeps me warm, and the best part is, dead people do not move or change sides). These lines have been struck with me ever since and brought attention on winters as an invisible disaster.