Mission Delhi – Suresh Shah, Lodhi Garden
One of the one per cent in 13 million.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Keeping the notebook aside, he gets up and starts to pace under the tree. “I have to go to London,” says Suresh Shah, 31, a kitchen assistant in Khan Market’s upscale Blanco restaurant. The Delhi Walla met him one summer evening in Lodhi Garden, a park famous for its ruins, trees, birds and frequented by politicians, bureaucrats, industrialists and romantic couples. Mr Shah’s duty hours are from 11 am to 3 pm, and from 8 pm to 1 am. During the 5-hour-long break, he walks to Lodhi Garden. “I sleep for two hours and then I study cooking for the remaining three hours.”
The pages of Mr Shah’s notebook are scribbled with recipes, such as of crisp lamb with mushroom and broccoli in hoisin sauce. His writing is neat and he speaks in broken English. A migrant from Nepal, he is not fluent in Hindi. Long pauses punctuates his talk as he gropes for the right English words.
Two months old in Delhi, he lives with three fellow Nepalis in a rented room in Zamrudpur, an urban village near Kailash Colony, south Delhi. There are no windows in Mr Shah’s room, which opens into a congested lane.
It was so different in Nepal where Mr Shah’s village lies in a valley. “There are mountains all around. Our valley is not plain, it has slopes.” Taking out a pen and paper, he draws a relief map of his country; his eyes watery, his fingers moving fast on the paper. “There is a river towards the south, Rapti. Another river is Babai. My village is near Babai. We have jungles there. We also have farmland.”
If the home is in such idyllic surroundings, why come to this smoggy city?
“For money. I had first come to Delhi in 2004. At that time I wanted to go to South Africa to work but it could not happen. I spent six months working at Red Coral restaurant in MG Road. I would take the steward’s order and gave it to the chef, and pass the dishes from the cook to the steward.”
During his earlier stay in Delhi, Mr Shah was a bachelor. Taking out the black & white picture of Khima, his wife, from the wallet, he says, “My family talked to her family three years before our wedding but things did not work out. I was not even aware of their meeting. Later my parents introduced me to around 15 girls but I liked no one. Finally, I was shown Khima and I gave my agreement. It was months later that I got to know that Khima was the first of the girls whom my parents had met.”
Although homesick, Mr Shah is not losing the focus: moving to London. “I have applied for the visa. My aunt’s son is a chef there. He struggled a lot. Like me, he too first came to Delhi and worked his way through various restaurants… even in 5-star hotels. When Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf came to Agra, the hotel in which he stayed… well, my aunt’s son was a cook there. He went to London after his friend there called for him. Now he is calling me. Let’s see.”
The evening sky is turning black. Mr Shah gets ready to return to Khan Market. Picking his shoulder bag, he says, “Lodhi Garden is very green but I don’t like the couples here…” Referring to romantic pairs who flee from their conservative neighbourhoods to get intimate in the anonymity of the park, Mr Shah says, “It’s embarrassing for families to come across these couples while taking a walk. These people should go to some other place.” After walking some distance, Mr Sharma turns back and says loudly, “Once I’m in London and I get a job there, I’ll call Khima.”
[This is the 25th portrait of the Mission Delhi project]