Delhi does not acquiesce easily to description. It is a city of violent contrasts and extremes unimaginable until you see them, hear them, feel them, or have them described to you by somebody who has lived it. This is one of the purposes of SBT’s Citywalk, a chance to get to know Delhi from a perspective of one who has wriggled out from underneath its weight.
Our leader on this particular walk was Devraj, a young man from Nepal who had made his way to Delhi as a ‘promised land’ and to leave a father who used drugs. He was chipper about his ordeals having under the auspices of SBT made a good life for himself. His ambition is to be a tour guide, so he is more than halfway to his dream.
We were led around the close, dense streets of Paharganj, down alleys that may have otherwise been forbidding. You learn very quickly to watch your feet, and skip the swathes of rubbish piled up in odd places, the animal excrement, the strewn pieces of scrap wire. You know that what is left on the ground is all worthless, as we pass through a rubbish seller’s street, where everything is being traded. Scrap metal is piled up behind ranks of plastic bottles, huge bales of plastic are carried on cycle-carts and human backs.
Entering the forecourt of the rail station, New Delhi, the main station of the city, comes as something of a relief from the incessant motor noise of the city streets; the noise here is of a different tenor, more human hubbub and strident tannoy. An oasis of calm is the original SBT “Contact point”, a set of rooms on top of the Rail Police outpost, where children from the railways can come for informal education, a meal, medical care, quiet. Proudly displayed are pictures of the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, when the paint on the walls was considerably brighter. This contact point was the first SBT initiative, a way of providing something for the children that come everyday to the city by hopping on the trains, and who form groups in the station and its environs. Social workers will work with the children, and now house them in SBT’s homes and hostels if they ask.
Our walk ended in the main office of SBT, down a side-street in Paharganj. Here we listened to the story of Priyanka, our other guide, an orphan who had been through many homes, but is now a motivated young woman who, in addition to guiding a group for the first time, was preparing to take her exams. The resolve shown by both our guides was heart kindling.
They are no longer just our guides but our colleagues. These are only two stories from the lived experiences of SBT and we will find more in every person here. Our work has only just begun, and through these stories we’re beginning to see the humanity that makes Delhi what it is, and the city itself become slightly more welcoming, slightly more human.
Words by Chris.
Photos by Alice, Rachel and Loritta.