One of the one per cent in 13 million.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
With tiny forceps, he plucks out the steel caseback of the wristwatch. The insides reveal a net of springs, clips and wires. He pores into the maze. His customer, too, peers down. The Delhi Walla met watch repairer Muhammad Chand, 38, in Connaught Lane. It is a busy street near Scindia House, Connaught Place, the Capital’s premier commercial district. Mr Chand’s stall, licensed by New Delhi Municipal Council, has been here for 20 years. A native of Nalanda, Bihar, he came to Delhi in 1991 and opened this stall a year later.
“Nothing has changed here,” Mr Chand says, waving his arm towards the street. The pedestrians are walking unhurriedly. In the late morning, the office peak hour is over and the traffic congestion on Kasturba Gandhi Marg has slowed. We are in the heart of Delhi, but it can be any market corner in any sleepy town in India. In front of Mr Chand’s stall is a pit, dug up by the municipality for sewage repair, which is strewn with used McDonald’s paper mugs and empty Uncle Chip’s packets.
While Mr Chand is busy with the watch, another customer comes and starts sorting the fountain pens stacked in a wooden box. The watch repairer also sells locks, combs, notepads, glue sticks, scissors, cell phone chargers and cable plugs. Soon one more customer comes to fill up his empty cigarette lighter. There is lighter fuel too.
“I learnt about watches at my school lab in Bihar.” Mr Chand could have become a physicist but his father died early and then it was the same story that happens to millions in India: too poor for higher education, no future in the heartland, migration to big cities and starting businesses that never grow big.
In the capitalist fairy tale, a man with drive, vision and manipulation can be a tycoon. But Mr Chand has been making Rs 5,000 monthly for the past ten years, and the next ten years look no different to him. His house consists one room (monthly rent: Rs 1,500) and it’s in JJ Colony, a slum in Uttam Nagar. The single bed is shared by Mr Chand, his wife, Tabassum, and children, Shama Azmi, Razaul Mustafa and 4-month-old Shama Alia. “Our life is a series of compromises. Everyone wants new clothes and new household items but you can’t satisfy all desires. My wife buys only one set of clothes every year.” The two-year-old Razaul yearns for a tricycle, but the cheapest is priced at Rs 300, which his father cannot afford.
Lack of money doesn’t mean lack of grace. Mr Chand is dressed formally: leather sandals, grey trousers and check shirt, though, the watch belongs to a customer. He is soft-spoken, commutes in the metro rail and brings homemade lunch to work. His shirt pocket has a pouch of tobacco. “It’s my time-pass.” His time will pass on as it had all these years.
[This is the 30th portrait of the Mission Delhi project]
Muhammad Chand, the watch repairer
So, what’s wrong?
He’ll get it running
Another watch not working
A quiet dignity