"For the first time in two years, I have had a full e-rickshaw. I have hardly been able to take a break today," said Vikas, 42, an e-rickshaw driver, with a smile on his face. He has a fixed route – from the Delhi University metro station to colleges in North Campus and vice versa. At around noon, he said that his earnings were almost double the usual amount.
On Thursday morning, Delhi University woke up to cheerful students, smiling rickshaw-wallahs, and hopeful vendors. Student-dependent workers, who were left in the lurch when classes halted abruptly almost two years ago, heave a sigh of relief as they now see signs of revival.
Vikas was not alone. Scores of auto-wallahs waited outside colleges, and for the first time in a long while, they saw a steady flow of customers.
‘We Were Ruined by the Lockdown’
Santosh Kumar, a cook who claims he can make 'all kinds of Indian food', had lost his job in an eatery in Lajpat Nagar during the first lockdown. He looked for jobs but could not find anything. He eventually started his own food cart that sells items like kulcha and parathas, right outside Hansraj College. But Thursday was the first time he saw signs of hope.
He said, "I live nearby and I knew that this was a student hub but I had no idea when colleges would restart."
He employs three workers who help him cook. He said, "Since morning, we have earned over Rs 1,500. We have had over 10 customers."
Not too far away, Jeevan Paswan, 50, a rickshaw-wallah, dropped off a student at Kirori Mal College. He made around Rs 250 by the afternoon, which is significantly higher than what he has been making for the last two years. He said that he usually waits for customers near colleges or markets. He has been in the area for over 10 years.
He had gone back to his hometown in Bihar just before the first lockdown was announced in 2020. He returned to the city after Diwali, only to see that there was no hope for him anymore. In the last few days, however, things have started to look up for him.
"I got a few college-going customers today. In the last few days, I have been picking up and dropping students at a primary school nearby too."Jeevan Paswan, a rickshaw-wallah
Signs of Revival
Danish, a tea-seller, said he had served tea to around 15-20 students by 11 am. Another tea-seller in the area said, "It is nice to see students come back. It helps our business and the area is full of life again.”
Student favourites like Tom Uncle Maggi Point and Saroj Juice Hut were brimming with customers throughout the day. While the vendors saw a significant increase in sales, they said it would take some time to reach pre-COVID levels.
Rahul and Monu, brothers who sell law books outside the Faculty of Law, were frequented by students asking for specific books. Rahul said, "When the lockdown was first implemented, we had to shut shop. After some time, we started selling books to students online. Whenever they had any requirement, they would reach out to us on WhatsApp but it is very different in person."
He added, "Almost everyone in the area, be it other bookstores or tea vendors, have faced the same problem. Without students, we have been out of business." After seeing the response on day 1, he said that things were looking up.