Chawri’s unusual wardrobes

A blue lungi is hanging in front of a shuttered shop, folded within a mishmash of power cables. Nearby, a baniyan and underwear are on a similar exhibit. Across the road, a pair of shirt and pants are on a string hitched to electric poles.

This is a morning scene in Old Delhi’s Chawri Bazar. The streets are decked with thick power cables looped around tall bent poles most haphazardly. Dangling over the pavement, these wires resemble the zigzag lines that complicated graphs are made of. The spectacular anarchy somehow works, and the electricity is successfully supplied to the surrounding buildings.

The more visible use of these cables (the ones in plastic coverings) is as clothes hangers for the hundreds of daily wage labourers of Chawri Bazar. Mostly single men with families back in the villages, the labourers tend to live in groups. If you walk the bazaar at midnight, you might see them slumped next to each other in long rows, asleep on the unlit pavements, and on carts and rickshaws.

“We don’t have a house, we don’t have a suitcase, so we hang our clothes on the cables,” explains Deepak, a labourer. He informs that most labourers don’t have many material possessions and live on two sets of clothes. “Every morning, while taking a bath under the handpump, we wash the previous day’s clothes, hang them on the cables to dry and put on the clean set for the day ahead.”

Some labourers also have quilts and bedsheets too heavy to be hung on cables. Deepak points to an electric pole with stuffed bundles tied around it with ropes. “These sarkari khambas (government poles) are of great help.”

And now, a young man, fresh from his bath, picks up a red shirt hanging from a cable, and casually puts it on. He walks over to a street barber and combs his hair in front of a small mirror.

Meanwhile, some steps away, a stretch of cable is looking pretty with… well, two, little facemasks.

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