Mission Delhi – Ram Swaroop Sharma, India Gate Maidan
One of the one per cent in 13 million.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The roti seems to be a few days old. Packed in a mud-stained handkerchief, it is broken into small pieces. With no sabzi or even a smidgen of pickle to go with it, these dry and crumbly remains of the staple Indian bread are the entire breakfast for Ram Swaroop Sharma. The Delhi Walla found him one summer morning lounging on the grassy grounds adjacent to Rajpath, the broad avenue that connects Rashtrapati Bhawan to India Gate. The area is popularly known as India Gate maidan.
Surrounded by leafy trees, damp grass and untrimmed hedges, Mr Sharma, 45, looks like an Indian avatar of Henry David Thoreau, the American naturalist who celebrated a life devoid of materialism. “I’m living here for eight years,” he says in a low voice.
Mr Sharma is not a natural talker. His words are few and far between, punctuated with long pauses. He often raises his head and moves his lips as if about to speak… but the words don’t come. The eyes, however, say much more than his speech, animated by some seemingly chaotic feelings. When I ask how he makes a living, Mr Sharma struggles to reply. Minutes pass, but no answer comes.
“It’s so hot. How can you wear a jacket?”
“What will you have for lunch?”
“Do you sleep in the maidan every night?”
Encouraged, I continue.
“You are not scared of the insects and snakes here?”
A shake of the head.
“Well, where are you from?”
“Rajasthan,” he finally speaks.
I make a note of everything Mr Sharma says in the next few minutes to my queries:
“I was born in Kerala, Trichur.”
“Last night I had a roti with green chillies.”
“I did diploma in mechanics from Madhya Pradesh.”
“I have two brothers.”
What brought him to Delhi? Why must he live under the open sky? Where does he get his rotis from? Why can’t he return to his family in Rajasthan? How does he make a living?
Mr Sharma, it seems, tries to address all these queries but his mouth does not open despite his best effort.
Since he will not talk, it is difficult to gauge if this is a life of choice or of compulsion. But at this moment, Mr Sharma owns all the essentials of life. His roti is in the handkerchief. His plastic water bottles are full. His clothes are stuffed in a bag. For reading, he has the old opinion pages of The Times of India.
Not far from where Mr Sharma is sitting is the office of the Prime Minister of India. Behind him is the building of Udyog Bhawan, which houses the ministry of commerce and industry. Also visible is the palatial residence of the President. These establishments exist to improve the lives of millions of Indians like Mr Sharma. However, Mr Sharma himself appears to have transcended the boundary within which anybody has the power to affect his life.
If terrorists attack the Delhi Metro, if the price of arhar daal skyrockets further, if the government falls, or if India becomes the world’s richest superpower, Mr Sharma will probably still be sitting here, unmoved and carefree. He is no longer connected to this world or so it seems.
[This is the 19th portrait of the Mission Delhi project]
Mr Sharma’s address
Lost in thoughts
Roti crumbs for breakfast
Other lives go on
That’s Rashtrapati Bhawan
One man Vs Udyog Bhawan
Mr Sharma’s backyard for eight years
See you, Mr Sharma