The Independent View – On Mission Delhi

Bus Stop People

Praise for the project.

[Text by The Independent‘s Andrew Buncomb; picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

The UK-based Independent‘s Asia Correspondent Andrew Buncombe wrote about the Mission Delhi project of The Delhi Walla on the newspaper’s website. Go where it was originally published or read here:

So many people in this vast, sprawling, awful, remarkable city. So many crowds, so much pushing. You can never find any space, any quiet. Who are all these people, these housewives, these labourers, these office workers, these shop-owners. Where do they all come from? What’s their story?

The official 2001 census figure for the Indian capital and its surrounding suburbs reckons the population stands at close to 14m, though I suspect – and many observers of Delhi agree with me – that the unofficial figure is much larger. What’s more it’s growing all the time, with people from states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh pouring into the city in search of a livelihood, the chance to pursue their slice of the shining Indian dream.

Much of the time – too much of the time, if I am horribly honest – one is too busy rushing around, arguing with officials, trying to fix the A/C, to stop and talk. Individuals become a mass and just morph into a crowd.

One smart writer and photographer who has been trying to address this problem is Mayank Austen Soofi, a talented young man with an obsession for all things literary, who has launched a project to profile one per cent of the city’s population. At his must-read blog, The Delhi Walla, he has undertaken to interview and photograph a remarkable 130,000 Delhites to tell the stories behind the blurred bustle of the crowd.

He writes: “You don’t understand a city by its buildings and bazaars, but by its people. That’s why you can’t take in the entire Delhi in one lifetime – we have 13 million souls here. The Delhi Walla plans to make portraits of one per cent of this 8-digit figure, that is 130,000 Delhiwallas. Each portrait will have a photograph of the person along with a peek into his life.”

Mayank admits he has little chance of completing such a vast task, but that is not the point. He is a believer that everyone has a story to tell, a unique narrative of their lives in this city. The dozen or so portraits he has already completed are compelling. Who cannot smile at the honesty of the man shopping at Khan Market with his penchant for “brands” or be charmed by the bookseller in Connaught Place and his enthusiastic daily dusting of his wares.

I had a cup of tea with Mayank in a cafe in Khan Market where he enthusiastically outlined his vision for the project. “It’s all about how these people interact with Delhi,” he said. I think his portraits are good enough to warrant an exhibition of their own.