Mission Delhi – Sunita Pandit, Palika Bazaar Park
One of the one per cent in 13 million.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Intently looking around, her eyes focus in on the the corner bench. A joda (couple) is sitting there. Sunita Pandit, 56, walks up to them. The Delhi Walla follows her. It is evening and we are at the park above Palika Bazaar parking in Connaught Place. The summer sun has just gone down and the park is beginning to attract people eager to take in the evening’s cool air. There are families, groups of friends, and couples. Since there are only a few benches, most sit on the grass. A little later the place will be swarming with homosexuals; the park is a popular cruising zone.
Reaching the bench, Ms Pandit claps to get the attention and stretches out her right palm towards the embarrassed couple. “May God keep your companionship intact,” she says. “May you both always be happy.” The boy withdraws his arm from the girl’s shoulder, takes out Rs 20 from his shirt pocket and gives it to Ms Pandit.
She then walks to a group of three people – two boys and a girl. They are sitting on the grass. “Please give something. God will keep you blessed.” The girl reminds Ms. Pandit that she had given her money only two days ago. “Oh, I think I must’ve forgotten.” Smiling and shaking her head, Ms Pandit walks away.
I catch up with Ms Pandit as she takes a short break from the dhanda (profession) to rest against an iron railing. There are holes in her pale green kurta. She is staring blankly at the Regal Theater, a colonial-era cinema complex that can be seen on the right side of the park. The golden light of the twilight hour has brought her day-old stubble into sharp focus. The hairs on her arms are more conspicuous than her large ear danglers. Her lipstick is red and the eye lids are brushed purple. There’s a large red bindi on her forehead.
“I realized I was a hinjra when I was five.” Hinjras, or eunuchs, are one of India’s most mysterious people; they earn money by flaunting their ambiguous sexuality but remain secretive about their personal lives. They live in groups, under the guardianship of a guru. Every group has its own ‘neighbourhood’. At every birth or wedding in the area, the hinjras go to the household, sing, dance, and demand money. They are rarely sent back empty-handed since it is not considered a good omen to receive the ill-wishes of a hinjra.
However, Ms. Pandit operates alone. She has no guru and belongs to no group. She lives in a one-room house in Paharganj, a residential area that is walking distance from Connaught Place. “The rent is Rs 1,800.” Ms Pandit wakes up daily at 5 am, goes out to a tea-stall to have chai, returns home, showers, and does the morning prayers. By 7 am, she is in Connaught Place.
For someone who earns by blessing romantic couples, Ms Pandit herself doesn’t believe in love. “I never feel lonely. I never felt the need for a lover. Then you will have to work extra to feed him too.”
Just then two beggar children come close to us. Ms Pandit asks them to leave. They refuse. She suddenly picks up a stone and throws at them. The children start abusing her. She responds back. “Choot. Maa ka bhosra. Teri maa chudh jaye.”
Ms Pandit’s family home is in a village near Allahabad, in eastern Uttar Pradesh. “I have parents, brothers, sisters-in-law and nephews at home. They all give me izzat (respect) though I was born a eunuch.”
Then why do you beg? Why don’t you go back to your family?
“As long as I can earn, I’ll stay on in this city.”
Next week Ms Pandit will be taking the train to Allahabad. She will be gone for a week. “My nephew is getting married.”
After a few minutes of silence, Ms Pandit gets up from the iron railing and starts looking for more couples. She spots one at the far end of the park. Before going she turns to me and says, “May God give you his barkat (blessing).”
[This is the 21st portrait of the Mission Delhi project]
Looking for the ‘couple’
May God bless you all
Taking a break
May you all be happy
Over to the other side
I’m loved; I’m not lonely