The temperature hovered around two degrees Celsius, which was very unusual for Delhi. The weatherman said over the television that the region was experiencing this kind of acute winter after 40 years, the last time being 1973.
Yes, for several days, extreme cold conditions had frozen normal life in India’s north and north-western states. Bones had been chilled to the marrow. It looked as if blood had frozen and all the vital organs in the body had come to a standstill.
Most people were bravely putting up with the extreme weather without much murmur, but the moment the weatherman or some TV channel talked about plummeting temperature, they would, by reflex action, tighten their woollen clothes.
While most of the metropolis population slept in the cozy comforts of their homes, hundreds of daily wage earners from neighbouring states went places after sunset in search of some covered patch to spend the night.
It had become a daily ritual. Some captured empty spaces below the iron girders of rail underpasses, others spread their scanty cloaks underneath the elevated metro railway lines.
For these tired and weary beings, the roar of the passing trains above and honking by vehicular traffic below did not matter. These rather worked like lullabies.
Elsewhere, in one of the temporary night shelters erected hurriedly by the local administration, scores of homeless people lay wrapped in blankets and quilts. The shelter, made up of a big tent pitched on a sandy patch of land, had its ground partly covered with thin sheets of plastic or worn out cotton carpets.
These served little to provide relief. But there were others who were denied even this ‘luxury’. They lay wrapped on bare earth. Inmates in these shelters included labourers, rickshaw pullers and small-time street vendors.
These underdogs had arrived late at the camp and badly needed a few hours’ sound sleep. After all, they had to resume their daily chores in the morning to earn enough for their own survival and send the rest to their families in far-off villages. However, they were not alone in the struggle for survival. Some half a dozen street dogs had sneaked into the tent, looking for a cozy place to spend the night. Initially, they lay curled up in the corners, but the unusual fall in night temperature soon made them sit up.
A well-built brown dog cautiously moved towards a man who lay wrapped, only his face popping out of the quilt. The dog inched his way further and sat on the edge of the blanket while watching for the man’s reaction.
The man did not shoo him away. Rather he seemed to be pitying the dog. It meant ‘no objection’. Encouraged, the mongrel slipped part of his body into the warm blanket and waited again for the man’s response.
The night temperature continued falling by the hour. The poor man let the shivering dog get closer inside. After all, both needed each other. The man was getting the dog’s body heat, while the poor animal was feeling comfortable in the warmth provided by his host. What a coexistence of dog and underdog it was!
The harsh weather had united man and animal in distress. This was further exemplified when a guard on duty tried to drive other mongrels as well out of the big enclosed tent, but was prevailed upon by the occupants not to do so. Raising his voice one of them told the guard: “Both of us are homeless. The ‘haves’ call us street people and street dogs. Let us stay together.”
And both the dogs and the underdogs spent the night happily thereafter.
Lalit Raizada is a journalist based in India.