Shaikh Yusuf is a popular man in Aurangabad. Soon after the lockdown was declared in March 2020, the 49-year-old lab assistant found his wallet thinning. The pay, from a pharmacy college in the city, was unsteady. There were loans to pay off, groceries to purchase, children’s fees to worry about. But the lockdown meant he had to stay home. And as he sat thinking about the future, the less bright it appeared.
Things, however, started to look up when Yusuf learned about “essential services”, which, at the time, were permitted to operate by the government. He soon teamed up with a friend to buy and sell vegetables; they got themselves a goods carrier, began procuring produce at wholesale prices from the Jadhavwadi market and started to ferry the cargo to corners of Aurangabad city. It was tough work, but much-needed income began to flow in.
Months later, the curbs eased to allow a few people to return to work. Yusuf received a call from the YB Chavan College of Pharmacy — they needed their lab assistant back.
Before the pandemic, Yusuf had a rusty old bike for the hour-long commute to work. But the world around him had changed — the price of petrol had gone up (it’s Rs 111 for a liter now), his savings had taken a hit, public transport was unavailable and there were still no garages open to service a vehicle that was falling apart. “I didn’t know how to get to work. Then I remembered the horse.”
It was, in his words, a smart decision. A relative had a horse for sale for Rs 40,000, and Yusuf used to ride as a child. He sold his rusty bike, scooped up some savings, set up a monthly installment schedule with the relative and some negotiations later, in May of 2020, brought home ‘Jigar’, a beautiful, black horse of the Kathiawari breed. Yusuf’s workplace is 16km away; Jigar was bred to cross deserts. The four-year-old colt was perfect for Yusuf and his bag.
Within days, Yusuf came to be known as the “ghoda wallah” — children would wave at him with smiles. He kept Jigar to the edges of the road, safe from moving traffic. The police, too busy with bandobasts, didn’t pay him much attention. “The few times I was stopped, I would tell them I was taking him out to graze.”
Today, three years later, amidst all the cars, buses and bikes that have returned to Aurangabad’s roads, Jigar and Yusuf are a sight to behold. Every day, he and his youngest son wake early to prep the horse. At 8.30am sharp, he sets off. The kind principal of the pharmacy college has allowed Jigar a store room in the building, where he’s kept along with some feed. Yusuf visits to give him some water, checks if he’s comfortable and at the end of shift, the two are on their way back home.
And it’s very likely Yusuf may never buy a bike again. The budget of Rs 4,000 he used to set aside for monthly expenses had to be increased to Rs 6,000, given the rise in gas and commodities prices. That old bike of his was a thirsty one too. Jigar, however, needs less than Rs 40 a day for upkeep. And since Yusuf lives on the outskirts, the nearby farms and fields are a good source of feed. “I don’t need a bike now. I have Jigar to take me to work,” says the father of four.