Sitting on the pavement near the Jangpura Metro Station, Jagdeesh Yadav stares blankly into space, occasionally sipping water from a plastic bottle. Yadav, who claims to be in his 90s, has got a tumour right above his left ear which makes it uncomfortable for him to wear a mask, but he wears it nonetheless.
“I am not wearing it for myself. I have put it on for the safety of others,” he says. Yadav says he left his home in Allahabad more than 30 years ago. He worked in several factories and drove a truck across the length and breadth of the country which gave him a perspective of life.
He came to Delhi 12 years ago and drove a rickshaw before his vision diminished.
In April, the owner of the rented accommodation he shared with two other rickshaw-pullers drove them out when they could not pay the rent.
“In our room in Sarai Kale Khan, I would cook for myself and my roommates,” he says. “Now, the footpath is my home. I cannot go home. I don’t even know if my brothers and sisters are alive. They must have died,” he says.
Yadav remained unmarried. He says he was so busy earning and taking care of the family that he didn’t think about it.
“If I go home now, my extended family will think I am asking them to take care of me in my final days,” he says.
Mukesh Kumar, 19, who shared the room with Yadav, says he will take the elderly man to his village, Kheda, in Uttar Pradesh’s Moradabad. “He will be part of my family,” he says.
“Baba cooked for us, cared for us. He is like my grandfather. I cannot live him alone here,” he says.
Back home, Kumar’s father and two brothers are farmers and he says he will join them and never return. “We are homeless. I don’t have a penny in my pocket. Neither baba nor our other roommate, Deepak, who is from Nepal, has any money on them,” he says.
Kumar and Yadav plan to take a bus to Moradabad when inter-state travel resumes. “I would have set out on foot but baba cannot walk much,” Kumar says.
Yadav intervenes: “I can still walk 60 kilometres a day. I had a lot of ghee and dahi in my prime.”
For now, the two sleep under a foot-overbridge and use the public toilet near it. “We don’t have any soap, so we just rinse our clothes in water so that there is no odour at least,” Kumar says.
They get “khichdi” twice a day in a nearby civic body school in Jangpura and some food from the people driving by.
Like Yadav and Kumar, around 80-85 migrants have made the pavement their home after police stopped them on the border with Uttar Pradesh and sent them back in mid-April.