India’s ‘iceman’ keeps up tradition in blistering heat

Ram Babu rides 15-20 kilometers a day delivering mainly to the scores of roadside eateries lacking refrigeration

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As the temperature heads towards 40 degrees celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in New Delhi, Ram Babu sets off on his bicycle in an unlikely race against time to deliver ice before it melts.

The 52-year-old is one of scores of ice vendors battling traffic, potholes and hordes of people in the Indian capital to supply small shops, in a tradition spanning generations.
Babu has been buying the thick blocks from a wholesaler almost every morning for 30 years, wrapping them in brown sacks to keep them cool and then strapping them to the back of his bike.

He rides an estimated 15 to 20 kilometers (nine to 12 miles) a day, delivering mainly to the scores of roadside eateries lacking refrigeration that are crammed into the city. “It’s a daily struggle. But this is something that I have been doing nonstop. Be it Sundays or holidays I have never taken a break,” said Babu, as he carefully unloads the blocks onto a bustling side street.

The father of five earns about 15,000 rupees ($223) a month from selling the ice, but says income has been falling steadily as more businesses buy their own fridges. “Now obviously most households have fridges and the offices have big water coolers. It is tough to sustain profits.”

Affectionately dubbed the “ice-man” by friends and neighbors, Babu takes pride in the tough, traditional job also done by his father and grandfather. But he said his children are more interested in finding jobs in offices and factories, and are unlikely to take over when he eventually retires.

“Look, I am already 52. I will carry on working for a few more years. “But my sons are not into this. For them it is a menial job. I don’t blame them and I will never force them to do it,” he said.