December is when the blazing sun leaves north India. There is a dull, uninterested glow during the day if any, and the wind whizzes past the ears of those who care to listen at night. A chill runs through the spine and kids snuggle up in their blankets, refusing to take a bath; even to come out of it.
Lucknow remains eerily quiet on such nights. The dry cold roams the streets looking for victims. It finds them in plenty, especially the homeless living on Hosadiaya Chauraha and Kathuata Chowk. Poor rickshaw pullers, rag pickers and daily wagers huddle together around a hastily lit bonfire and by the time the flames die, they sleep in much discomfort. The much- publicised blanket donation by the state government has not trickle down to these localities, it seems.
Around midnight, almost every day, a group of college boys pass this crossing. On three or four bikes, they come laughing and shouting. It seems that peace for these homeless pedestrians is compromised. But on a second look, it is the opposite. The daily wagers look forward eagerly for these seemingly rowdy boys
These college goers bring with them warm tea for the homeless. They set up trays on their bikes and serve out tea in small paper cups. The poor crowd around them for tea. Sometimes they bring warm snacks. Once a week, they supply firewood to these locals. But they enjoy the tea most.
Ramphal, a rickshaw puller, says: “Bhaiya log sardi mein do ghoont chai pilate hain. Acha lagta hai, garam chai peena.” (These brothers offers us a few sips of tea in the cold. It feels great to have the hot tea). The boys laugh and chat with these local homeless people. It’s a mini party out there for the next thirty minutes or so.
Sambal, an elderly daily wager, gives them his blessings, “Gareeb ko chai pilana upar wale ka kaam hai.” (Giving tea to the poor is the work of God). Kettle after kettle finishes up and the look of satisfaction on the faces of both the boys and his customers increases. A few of them discuss their day over a cup of tea; others exchange jokes while a few take their cups back to the coarse cloth on which they sleep. Ten minutes of company and a cup of tea is perhaps the best moment of the day for them..
We asked the boys what else they plan on doing or if they are going to expand. They said (anonymously) that being college students, they have limited funds. “We spend what we save each month. This is our way of feeling good. We love to ride on cold nights and along the way, we spread some warmth. Neither do they have a concrete plan to expand nor is any of this for show. We do our share.” On asking why they do not contribute to Chief Ministers’ plan to donate blankets, he replied, “They sell anything that is not edible to buy drugs or alcohol. We don’t want that. Giving them a moment of respite from this cold is all we want.”
The biker gang comes loudly, shouts and laughs, serves some hot, hot tea and go away zooming. The cold wind won’t find any victim here.