Mission Delhi – Salim Javeri, Nizamuddin Basti
One of the one per cent in 13 million.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
He walks to the young man and whisper in English, “Sir, I see you are lucky. ” The man stares at him for a moment, looks scared and goes away. He lowers his head and then raises his eyes looking around suspiciously. The Delhi Walla goes to him and together we sit down on the pavement bench. It is late night and we are on Mathura Road, just outside the main entrance to Nizamuddin Basti, the 14th century village famous for a sufi shrine that gives its name to the locality.
“At present I’m in a very poor condition,” Salim Javeri says. In a dusty blue jeans and a long muddy-white kurta, he has a green scarf hanging round his neck. His beard is scraggly. Chest hair is springing out from his kurta buttons. He has drooping shoulders; his eyes are sunken. Sitting away from the orange glow of the street lamp, he is reduced to his silhouette.
“I collect donations from pilgrims who come to visit the Baba,” he says referring to the sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. In India, educated people speak such good English. Where did Mr Javeri, a beggar, learn this language? He is not exhibiting that pathetically poor persona, devoid of all dignity, that is thought by beggars to appeal to the charitable instincts of the well-off. Who is this man? Why is he forced to beg?
“It is my internal matter. Not open to anyone.” Taking out a packet from his kurta, Mr Javeri says, “If you don’t mind, you like sweet biscuits?”
Over the glucose biscuits, Mr Javeri give clues to his life:
• He is from Benares, UP.
• He was born in March, 1965.
• He is a graduate in Sociology from Kashi Vidhyapeeth University in Benares.
• He was employed as a maintenance engineer in Texla TV.
• He has parents, two brothers, a wife and a son. They live in Benares.
• He left for Delhi in 2001.
Mr Javeri: “I’m in no position to go back.”
Mr Javeri: “What to say… economic and maintenance (sic) reasons.”
Me: “If you have problems, why can’t your family help you?”
Mr Javeri: “Time passes. Poverty is powerful.”
A pause and then Mr Javeri continues: “I have developed certain weak points in my character and though I try to get rid of them, I can’t. So I can’t face my family.”
Me: “What are those weak points?”
Mr Javeri: “You are yourself intelligent. I’m a smack-ey.”
Smack, or heroin, is an addictive substance sold illegally in Delhi in powder form. In the underground subways, for instance, the homeless are often seen inhaling its fumes. “I put the powder in an aluminum foil, which I heat from below with a matchstick and then I sniff the fumes, the real thing.”
It feels great?
“Look, the fact is that the fumes are powerful only for those who are trying smack for the first time or having it after a long gap. For people like me who smoke it daily, we are so used to it that we feel no effect. Instead, we feel a powerful effect when we don’t have it. Then our body stiffens. We don’t want to get up, don’t want to walk, don’t want to eat, don’t want to drink. We start having pain in the leg, in the arm, in the head. To keep the circulation going in our body, we need to have it. Else we can’t have a normal day.”
Smack is easily available in Nizamuddin Basti. The area’s beggars are often seen walking in a drug-induced daze. Mr Javeri goes to Dilli Gate, in Old Delhi, to get his daily dose, each of which comes for Rs 50. He spends Rs 200 daily on the drug.
“I can do anything for the dose. If I have just Rs 25, I can still get it. If I don’t have money, I pester other addicts to give me some. If an addict has Rs 500, he will invest all of it in the smack. Yet he will not get sakoon (satisfaction). Actually you do get sakoon but it lasts only for a short time. Then you again start thinking about arranging the money. You collect donation, you pick somebody’s wallet, you even attack someone with a knife. But I have never compromised myself.”
During the day, Mr Javeri sleeps behind the shade of Nizamuddin Dargah bus stop. In the evening, he collects ‘donation’ for a few hours. Later, he boards a bus to Dilli Gate where he gets the ‘powder’ from a vendor in a graveyard in Takia Sarai Kale Khan.
Once Mr Javeri had a different life. For ten years he worked as an engineer in a television manufacturing company. His job would take him to different states but once every month he would come to Delhi to get his pay cheque. In those trips to the city, he would see addicts in subways and traffic lights but he thought nothing of them. “I never realized that one day I would end up like them.”
When Mr Javeri lost his job and returned to Benares, his parents married him off. A year later he had a son. By that time he had mixed up with people who were addicted to hashish. He too got into the habit. The family tried to help him get out of the addiction but the attempts failed. “I was sinking in a quicksand. The more I flayed my arms in desperation, the deeper I sank. I was like a child who would look at the direction where he was pointedly asked not to.” Mr Javeri’s parents and brothers started beating him… sometimes in front of his wife. “I could not tolerate it. I left for Delhi.”
It has been ten years since then. “I haven’t seen them. In fact, I came to Delhi because it is such a big city. No one can find you here if you want to be lost. And you know I’m a Hindu by birth. My real name is Sanjeev Kumar Singh. There is a reason why I chose this Muslim locality to live. If my family ever comes searching for me in Delhi, they will never think of looking for me here.”
Will they ever search for him?
“I’m confident that sometimes they must be shedding tears for me.”
Does he regret leaving them?
“Sir, there is a saying in Hindi:
Apno ki do baat nahi bardasht kar sakte
Baad mein lakohn logo ki baatien bardasht karte hain.
[While we will never tolerate even two barbs from our own family members,
We are later ready to tolerate attacks by strangers.]
[This is the 22nd portrait of the Mission Delhi project]
Shadow of the self
Arranging money for the dose
This too is life
Life is a smack
Delhi’s other drug addicts
What is to be done?