A road is all it takes to separate and define the lives of two sets of people. One is the slum-dwellers and other is an upper middle class society. A road that not only defines the income group but also their fate. One welcomes you with a stench and the other with swanky cars parked all around.
We live in a world full of extremities and oxymoronic realties and Kalandar Colony opposite Dilshad Garden in East Delhi is no different.
Kalandar or Qalandar is an Urdu word that means a free man or an intellectual saint, mocking the slum and its habitants whose lives are anything but that.
A wide white titled garbage room will usher you in with a stink that not only burns your nostrils but also reaches the throat. The narrow lanes are packed with half- built houses, ones without roofs and even tents or shanties , housing around 500 people, Kalander colony tells a tale even before we question.
Onlookers lead us to the Panchayat head, Babur Khan (42) who’s busy solving a case of a 16 year old drug addict with his father wailing next to him. After a ruckus that soon died down, he addressed us, “We’ve seen a lot of your kind, taking surveys and acting concerned, we don’t need you, we need change.”
Speaking fiercely of broken roads and open sewage, a crowd gathers complaining about the same.
According to the residents, Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has never sent sweepers to dust the roads or fix the bad drainage. During monsoons, the sewer over flows resulting in ankle length waste water. To this a bystander said,” We have literally seen bricks of shit floating in our houses during the rains.”
Unsurprisingly, there is often an outbreak of diseases and mishaps during the rainy season.
Neither of the 200 houses have a toilet, therefore children relieve themselves in the sewer itself and others go to the nearby forest or a secluded area. Seemingly uncomfortable talking about the hygiene in the slum, Khan added ” Women face a threat to both their health and honour.”
“There was a toilet just outside our slum, but it was demolished 5-6 years ago to widen the road under the orders of the then Vidhayak Dr.Narendra Nath.” added Rakesh Chaudhary sitting next to Khan. He further said that since then they have repeatedly asked the MCD to look into this particular matter, but to no avail. Although there is one near the area, women and children prefer nature over the disease breeding toilet. No one remembers the last time it was cleaned.
They also complain of incompetency of the current Vidhayak as well, Ram Vilas Goyal is yet to acquiesce to their pleas for development. “He promised to build toilets, but no action has been taken yet, they say the funds have been collected and the work would start soon, but we don’t see that happening any time soon.” added a rather miffed Chaudhary.
The slum is an abode to several entertainers from Madaris to Saperas, even clowns and magicians, it’s no less than a Pandora box waiting to be opened.
But our once celebrated merry-makers are now reduced to beggars, rag pickers and more so waste mongrels roaming around the streets looking for odd jobs.
The madari said,” Maenka Gandhi took away monkeys and langoors, magic seldom finds takers and clowns are throwing away their face paints as children now turn to malls for birthday parties.”
Unemployment is rampant and children are bearing the brunt of it the most. Hardly 30% go to school as others help earn extra bucks for the family by toiling at the garbage dump outside the colony, working at cheap motels and even stealing. Many parents who want to send their kids to school are unable to due to their grinding penury.
Apart from this, education does not drive the youth, no matter how meagre amount they earn, they get to spend it their way and it always appeals to them more than text books. ” You know how government schools are, teachers seldom come. If children are to waste time, they can do it back home too. why pay for it.” said chaudhary who stopped sending his son to school way back.
“We clean the sewer on our own, as MCD does not send the sweepers, imagine our plight.” added Khan.
Water though is insufficient but they make do with the supply that comes for two hours in the morning and one in the evening.
Every household has a LPG cylinder and electricity. Still, several sleep under the sky during winters and seek refuge in shade of trees during the scorching heat. ” Many are unable to pay bills due to uncertain employment.” said Sarfaraz, Khan’s neighbour.
The colony is Muslim dominated but communal tensions have evaded them, they say. Hindu and Muslims live together in harmony, like they say; ” Poor has no religion.”
The lack of a community hall or a garden in or around the colony is what irks them the most. Many a times, festivals and wedding functions are not held due to the high renting costs.
This is where panchayat meets, weddings are held and festivals celebrated. “Naturally we clean the place ourselves after functions.” added .. the magician sitting next to the open space.
He along with his accomplice showed us their awards and recognition certificates from around the world. Beaming with hope, they gave us their card urging us to help them save the last bit of magic left. Both happen to be the last generation of magicians. Their sons are now mechanic and an electrician respectively.
Although there is a hospital nearby, the residents feel it is better to take the sickness take its toll and time rather than standing in the line. ” We only go for serious diseases or accidents. Otherwise it is a pain to stand and wait for our turn.” This is an apt example of lack of education and awareness. Health is ignored and it was apparent.
Kalander colony used to be a village a decade ago but was demolished to make way for Dilshad Garden. They are now frowned upon on their own land and dread that they would be ousted soon. Telling us about the heaps of applications sent to Ram Vilas Goyal to legalise their slum, khan said, ” Many are not constructing roofs over their head here, fearful of the uncertain future.”