There is almost no movement in the pre-dawn cold, when the winter fog sits low over the old city and the only light comes from distant street lamps. The parking lot is silent, except for the occasional hacking cough.
So it takes a while to realize there are nearly 100 people in the square of dirt on the edge of the cotton-sellers’ district in the Indian capital. All are asleep in handmade wooden cots jammed one against the other. Dozens more people sleep around a battered empty fountain nearby.
In a few hours, workers will haul away the cots and Meena Bazaar Park No. 2 will fill with cars. By 9 a.m. the overnight community will have disappeared. Its residents will carry their meager possessions in plastic shopping bags until nightfall, when the lot once again will turn into a makeshift outdoor motel.
This is home. Some stay for one night. Others remain for decades, raising children who in turn raise their own children here.
For thousands of people struggling at the bottom of India’s working class, this bleak vision and the handful of places like it scattered across New Delhi are 60-cent-a-night refuges.