Urban Wilderness: ‘I Slept on a Divider for One Night’

Urban Wilderness: ‘I Slept on a Divider for One Night’


In New Delhi, the highway is a dreary reminder of an urban life stripped of the necessities many of its residents take for granted. The city's homeless people, almost 3 million in number, find empty corners, bridges, flyovers, and dividers to rest for the night. Despite night shelters, many still prefer to sleep outside. With a divider on my mind, I set out to get at least a faint idea of what being homeless was like for one night.

Location: Kashmere Gate

I made myself comfortable on my chosen divider: the one located at Rajghat Road stretching towards the infamous Kashmiri Gate bus station. Accompanied by Kabir, who was as committed to the idea as I was, I tried my best to salvage at least three hours of decent sleep. However, sleeping was easier said than done.

The flow of traffic, even at three in the morning, didn't let up: trucks speeding-by drove uncomfortably close to my near-frozen body. I was wearing a down black jacket on top of a thin sweater and I had on a pair of leg warmers underneath my jeans. At one point in the night, a truck sped-by just inches from my body and sent a cloud of dust spinning directly into my face.

So not only was the vibration of heavy vehicles and the din of their passing prohibitive to getting any sleep, but the dust they sent flying up was much more uncomfortable and damaging than one might have expected.

Was sleeping on the divider unpleasant enough to be an 'ordeal'?

For someone who already has a home to live in and is only sleeping on the divider as a casual experiment, the novelty was thrilling, and the thought of a safe spot to call home provided reassurance and security. But for someone who is deprived of this comfort, the experience is undoubtedly a world apart. Even knowing that this will only last for one night, I was initially terrified by the thought that someone would chance upon us and rob or assault us.

While recording, a truck stopped by the divider and a group of three men huddled together stared at us for more than what felt like five minutes. Slowly as time passed, I muttered to Kabir that they were probably more curious than mischievous. A tripod standing at a divider late in the night would have aroused anyone’s curiosity.

Needless to say, I was glad to get home to a warm bed. But the point of this experiment wasn't to 'rough it' for kicks – it was to gain a more empathetic understanding of what life on the streets for millions of Indians is like. And from first-hand experience, albeit for just one night, of sleeping without shelter, sleep or safety, made me feel more vulnerable than I ever have. One can only imagine what it's like to live it night after night.

Video Editor: Rahul Sanpui

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