It is almost midnight. The neighbourhood groceries have closed for the day. The area’s sole eatery too has downed its shutters. The three attendants at the adjacent gas station are sitting idle. A homeless man is sleeping outside a shuttered tailoring shop, his body covered with a white sheet. The lane is in this central Delhi neighbourhood is lifeless at this hour.
Moments later, a breach tears through this emptiness as ice-cream seller Ram Bran pushes his ice-cream trolley through the street.
“I’m going home,” he says in a muffled voice. Turning backwards, he gestures with his arm towards a distant turning. “I sit there everyday selling the ice-cream.” The red plastic chair on which he sits, while waiting for customers, is now placed upside down on the top of the trolley.
Despite the late hour, Ram Bran says he hasn’t had his meal yet. “I will eat after reaching home.” His home—a single room on rent—is nearby. No hot meal of dal-chawal awaits him. In his early 60s, Ram Bran stays alone; his family lives in the village in Gaya, Bihar. “I have a son, a bahu, a pota, a poti,” he says in a singsong voice, the way a sleepy grandparent might tell a bedtime story to a child. Ram Bran’s son, too, has a “similar” kind of profession as his, but he works nearer home in Gaya. “And look at me, I went so far from them,” he mutters in an amused tone, shaking his head. Talking of his past, he remarks that for 25 years he has been selling ice-cream on the same spot in Delhi. “I had briefly worked as a chowkidar when new to Dilli.”
On reaching home, Ram Bran will prepare a dinner of “some subzi, some rotiyan.” Every night he cooks from scratch. Dragging his refrigerated trolley, he says he has no fridge at home to keep food, and must thus prepare every meal in real time. But occasionally at work, when he is particularly hungry, he helps himself to an ice-cream. “I like many ice-cream varieties, and sometimes I even have the one that costs 50 rupees.”
Walking ahead, Ram Bran says he will not go to bed before 2 am.