Mission Delhi – Naresh Chandra, Lodhi Road
One of the one per cent in 13 million.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The lamplight is not falling on him, but on the puddle behind him. Looking like his own silhouette, he re-arranges the stuff in his basket. Naresh Chandra, 30, sells ram ladoo, the classic Delhi street food. These are fried dumplings made of moong daal batter that are served on a leaf bowl with coriander chutney and grated radish.
We meet in Lodhi Road. It is late evening. The traffic is heavy and fast. Mr Chandra is stationed on the pavement that has been newly built as part of the reconstruction drive to spruce up the city for the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games. Mr Chandra has thin moustache and light-brown eyes. His trousers are rolled up a little. It was raining an hour before. “See, it’s all full,” he points to the basket, placed at the top of a tripod-like wooden stand. “I spent Rs 450 in making these ladoos and my earning today is just Rs 350.” He, however, has good news to share. “Father called from the village. My wife gave birth to a daughter.”
There is no luxury of celebrating the occasion. Mr Chandra will reach home – a rented room with an attached bathroom – in Kotla Bau Park, near Sewa Nagar railway crossing, at 11 pm. Before going to sleep at 1 am, he will have to soak the moong daal in water for the next day. At 4 am, he will wake up to make 600 ram ladoos on his kerosene stove. At 9 am, he will be back on the road.
“I’m a pheri walla. I never stay at one place but keep walking, and I set up my stall wherever there is a crowd.” Mr Chandra’s world is confined to a small area in and around Lodhi Road in Central Delhi. He always stops outside Sai Baba Mandir, CGO Complex offices, Meharchand Market and Lodhi Road Market. Sometimes he walks as far as Khan Market, one of Delhi’s priciest shopping districts. When hungry, he goes to a dhaba in Meharchand Market for dal-chawal. “It’s just Rs 25. The cheaper the food, the better.”
Why doesn’t he eat his own ram laddoos? “How can you have your own food daily? It gets boring.”
Mr Chandra has been in Delhi for ten years. His wife, Kusma Devi, and his five children – Anita, Vinod, Manoj, Babita, and the unnamed newborn – live with his parents in a village called Bohajeet Nagariya in Badaun, a district in Uttar Pradesh. His house, half made of bricks and the other half of mud, has two rooms. The property includes two bulls and four buffaloes. “We grow wheat and rice on our land but the fertilizers are expensive and we don’t get enough produce.” In Delhi, Mr Chandra manages to make Rs 8,000 monthly. “Rs 750 goes to the room rent and Rs 2,000 is the food bill. I send the remaining money to the village. We borrowed Rs 60,000 from a bank for my sister’s marriage so we have to pay back that amount too.”
What will be the future of Mr Chandra’s many children? “Villages are not conducive to serious studies.” Bringing the family to the city does not make for a sound financial sense. Just why he had five children? “Are you joking?” Mr Chandra asks with an embarrassed laughter. On my pressing the question, he shrugs and says, “What to say?” The ram ladoo vendor then picks up the basket, places it on his head, fixes the tripod under his arm and starts walking towards Lodhi Garden, in search of customers.
[This is the 29th portrait of the Mission Delhi project]
Waiting for customers
No takers for Ram Ladoo
Someone should come
Lodhi Road life
OK, I’m going